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Sustainable Composites


The objective of this project is the develop of tools to measure the fundamental structure-processing and structure -property relations associated with sustainable polymer composites. This will be accomplished by using interface characterization methods such as Forster Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET), NMR and Raman spectroscopy to quantify the effects of the complex interactions and high degree of chemical functionality characteristic of the interface of these materials. These methods will be coupled with mechanical property measurements to characterize the effect of mechanical degradation, ageing, and hydro-thermal effects on interface structure and integrity in sustainable/conventional composite blends and bio-based polymer nanocomposites. 

Successful development of these measurement tools will enable a broad spectrum of US industries (infrastructure, aerospace, transportation, alternative energy, automotive, electronics, military, sports and biotechnology) to compete in sustainable composite, biopolymer and nanomaterials markets or apply the products of these markets, enabling them to reach their strategic sustainability goals. This will be engender  buy supplying industrial R&D with new measurement tools to characterize composite materials, and by providing the manufacturing environment with NDE tools for evaluation of composites for monitoring product quality, service-life and repair of sustainable composites.


Presently, bio-based composite performance does not match conventional materials. Compared to conventional petroleum-based products, bio-based materials carry a higher degree of chemical functionality creating complex, potentially hierarchical structures with incredible potential, but also with intense measurement needs. Recently Omenn identified "chemical feedstocks from renewable resources, especially biomass" as one of the Grand Challenges facing the scientific community.[1] To enable use of these materials in Sustainable Composites an unprecedented effort must be launched to develop the fundamental structure-property and processing-property relations that will enable these materials to provide the necessary performance in the wide spectrum of applications envisioned. NIST recently developed a FRET imaging method[2] for nanocomposites, and this coupled with other characterization methods such as the Raman measurement method developed by Eichorn,[3] which allows measurement of the mechanical stress-transfer across the interface in bio-composites, will be further developed and compared. This will aid in development of tools which will enable industry to gain a better fundamental understanding of composite performance, and to develop high performance sustainable bio-based composites.

[1]  Gilbert Omenn, Science Vol 314, 15 December 2006.

[2] M. Zammarano, P. Maupin, L.P. Sung, J. W. Gilman, D. M. Fox, "Revealing the Interphase in Polymer Nanocomposites" ACS Nano Vol 5, No. 4, 3391-3399, 2011.

[3] S. J. Eichorn, et al, Biomacromolecules, 2010, 11, 762-768.

A Forster Resonance Energy Transfer image of nano-cellulose in PE

Start Date:

October 1, 2010

End Date:


Lead Organizational Unit:



Jeffrey W. Gilman
Edward McCarthy
Mauro Zammarano


Jeffrey W. Gilman
Project Leader