Book review: Biopolymer Composites

by | Jan 20, 2014

Marisa Masumi Beppu, University of Campinas SP, Brazil reviews Biopolymer Nanocomposites: Processing, Properties, and Application.

biopolymer-nanocomposites-front-coverBiopolymer Nanocomposites: Processing, Properties, and Applications
Alain Dufresne (Editor), Sabu Thomas (Editor), Laly A. Pothan (Editor), Richard F Grossman (Series Editor), Domasius Nwabunma (Series Editor)
ISBN: 978-1-118-21835-8
Hardcover/ E-book
696 pages
$185.00 / $149.99
Click here for more information

Reviewed by Marisa Masumi Beppu, University of Campinas SP, Brazil

The book “Biopolymer Nanocomposites”, from the Wiley Series on Polymer Engineering and Technology, is edited by Alain Dufresne, Sabu Thomas and Laly A. Pothan and brings in 25 chapters distributed along about 600 pages, a good representation of the current investigations in the area.

It is interesting that about four decades ago, materials and polymer market experienced a remarkable growth in the volume of synthetic polymers consumed as packaging, goods (from small appliances to cars), textiles, etc. Mankind learned to replace paper, wood and metal by polyolefins, polyamides, polyvinilchlorides, etc. This movement was auto-catalysed by the lower prices of these materials that, in its turn, were impelled by the evolution of polymer engineering processing techniques. Added to this fact, the unique properties of some of these materials compensated some of their disadvantages. Light weight even loosing tenacity, plasticity versus fragility, are good examples of counterbalances provided by this new class of materials. We learned to use plastic bags instead of paper´s, buying cars with lighter fenders instead of metals and even dress expensive-looking clothes thanks to the popularization of garment prices promoted synthetic polymers.

However, as in all situations, the almost abusive replacement of conventional nature-extracted materials (wood and metal) lead to environmental issues, which increased the concerns about the biodegradability of materials, conscious use of natural resources and the new concept of limitations of natural resources. Sustainability became a mandatory jargon.

The trends in material science just obey these new concepts and they direct efforts towards the balanced use between synthetic polymers and biopolymers is being much more stimulated. In the present review, biopolymers are understood to be polymers that were produced from biomass with little chemical transformations.

From one point of view, biopolymers bring the advantages of biodegradability and the use of renewable resources, but from another point, there is still a lack of properties to replace the synthetic polymers properly. Plasticity, mechanical and chemical resistance and final processing price would be some of these properties. The main barrier for better pricing would still be the development of new processes of fabrication.

In this sense, nature became a reference to find not only biopolymers but biopolymers nanocomposites (as chorals, sea shells, bones, bamboo, wood, to cite few) that produced as a result of millions of years of evolution, materials with unique mechanical, chemical and biological properties that overcome the ones exhibited by the pristine components alone. These materials are known to well explore anisotropy and supra-molecular control and chemical topography.

The so-called biomimetic material science is particularly attractive as all these composites are processed and engineered in mild conditions, room or physiological temperatures, all in aqueous solutions using biologically-friendly mild acid, bases and salts.

The recent increase in the research in biocomposites focuses in properties and processing, which still are the bottlenecks for producing these materials in large scales.

From this context, a reader that is interested in the real trends of investigations in Materials Science and Engineering has to be aware of the progress in the area of biopolymeric composites. Some specific applications are already experiencing fairly good advances provided by these compsites, as biomaterials and biomedical area.

This book reflects well the current trends in processing, properties and applications of biopolymer nanocomposites, despite of the inherent difficulty that anyone would have to compile a representative amount of work in few hundred pages.

Although it is not intended to be a basic introduction of the subject, the book can provide an interesting picture of the current advances and challenges in the area. In some sense, it is well directed to material scientists, as the techniques are well described in bench-scale as any cutting edge technology would require at first. In this way, the book explores well the break of paradigms in reaching specific properties from these bio-based materials.

Talking specifically about the compounds, the book is a good representation of the directions in research with biopolymers: most explored systems are based on polysaccharides (and proteins). 6 chapters are devoted to chitin and chitosan, 6 deals with starch, 7 to cellulose and 1 for lignin with the last two chapters to proteins.

Although those numbers do not represent well the current proportion of use of these compounds in industry, the chapters present a nice range of research results and also nice chapters about the limitations and concerns in using biopolymeric composites.

The prominent editors performed a very hard task to compile a diverse array of professionals in the area of biocomposites that have contributed significantly to turn this book broader and representative. The nice result from this is that the book can certainly be of benefit to graduate students and researchers that seek some background in several types of characterizations, techniques and materials that are being used in this field.

Not intended to be an introductory text, this book can help the researcher that intend to understand the current horizons and challenges in an area that is undoubtedly important to help the society to turn sustainability a reality and not only a jargon.