Sheet-Like Lignin Particles as Multifunctional Fillers in Polypropylene

Lignin is an attractive renewable reinforcing agent for polyolefins and also a promising low-cost antioxidant for polymers. It, however, exhibits poor compatibility with nonpolar polymers. In this work, alkali lignin was freeze-dried to achieve sheet-like morphology and then incorporated into polypropylene (PP) by melt compounding. Owing to the significantly increased interfacial area and improved dispersion, with the addition of only 2 wt % freeze-dried lignin, the PP/lignin composites show much enhanced tensile mechanical properties, including a moderately improved Young’s modulus and almost doubled elongation at break compared with those of neat PP. The enhancements brought by the sheet-like lignin are far more impressive than those achieved with the same amount of as-received lignin. The composites with the freeze-dried lignin also have rough fractured surfaces with fiber pull-out near the interface, revealing a significant toughening effect of the lignin, which can be attributed to the crazing near the interface, and enhanced relaxation in PP-lignin interphase as evidenced by the reduced <i>T</i><sub>g</sub>. Furthermore, the large interfacial area also drastically improves the antioxidant effect of lignin, greatly slowing the UV-induced and thermo-oxidative degradation of PP. After 2 weeks of intense UV exposure, neat PP becomes very brittle with its yield strain reduced to about 37% of its original value, whereas the yield strain of the composite with 2 wt % sheet-like lignin is almost unchanged, demonstrating the excellent free-radical scavenger effect of the lignin.