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Silk as a Natural Reinforcement: Processing and Properties of Silk/Epoxy Composite Laminates
Mechanical Engineering Program, University of Houston−Clear Lake, Houston, TX 77058, USA
School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019, USA
A researcher at the University of Houston-Clear Lake is working to produce natural silk fiber composites
with stronger resistance to impact than traditional glass and carbon fibers.
Composites World, 20.02.2019
With growing environmental awareness, natural fibers have recently received significant interest as reinforcement in polymer composites.
Among natural fibers, silk can potentially be a natural alternative to glass fibers, as it possesses comparable specific mechanical properties.
In order to investigate the processability and properties of silk reinforced composites, vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM)
was used to manufacture composite laminates reinforced with woven silk preforms. Specific mechanical properties of silk/epoxy laminates
were found to be anisotropic and comparable to those of glass/epoxy. Silk composites even exhibited a 23% improvement of specific flexural
strength along the principal weave direction over the glass/epoxy laminate. Applying 300 kPa external pressure after resin infusion was found
to improve the silk/epoxy interface, leading to a discernible increase in breaking energy and interlaminar shear strength. Moreover, the effect
of fabric moisture on the laminate properties was investigated. Unlike glass mats, silk fabric was found to be prone to moisture absorption
from the environment. Moisture presence in silk fabric prior to laminate fabrication yielded slower fill times and reduced mechanical properties.
On average, 10% fabric moisture induced a 25% and 20% reduction in specific flexural strength and modulus, respectively.