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Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites

Properties of Recycled Polyethylene/Chitosan Composites: the Effect of Polyethylene-Graft-Maleic

H. Salmah and A.N. Azieyanti
Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites published online 23 December 2010
DOI: 10.1177/0731684410391507

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Properties of recycled polyethylene/ 0(00) 1–8

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chitosan composites: the effect of
DOI: 10.1177/0731684410391507
polyethylene-graft-maleic anhydride

H. Salmah and A.N. Azieyanti

The surface of recycled polyethylene (RPE)/chitosan composites was modified with polyethylene-graft-maleic anhydride
(MAPE). The mechanical properties, water absorption, morphology, and thermal properties were investigated.
The composites with MAPE improved tensile strength and Young’s modulus but reduced elongation at break and
water absorption. Scanning electron microscopy study of the tensile fracture surface of composites indicated that the
presence of MAPE increased the interfacial interaction between chitosan and RPE matrix. The incorporation of MAPE
improved the thermal stability and crystallinity of RPE/chitosan composites.

recycled polyethylene, chitosan, compatibilizer, composites

biodegradability; therefore, leading to ecological safety

Introduction and the possibility of preparing a variety of chemically
Growing environmental awareness has resulted in or enzymatically modified derivatives for specific end
renewed interest in the use of natural material for dif- uses.3 Chitosan [poly-(1-4)-D-glucosamine], a cationic
ferent applications. Concern for the environment, both polysaccharide, is obtained by alkaline deacetylation
in terms of limiting the use of finite resources and the of chitin, the principal exoskeleton component in crus-
need to manage waste disposal, has led to increasing taceans, and it is also classified as a natural polymer
pressure to recycle materials at the end of their useful because of the presence of a degradable enzyme,
life. Recycling, together with the use of cleaner technol- chitosanase. It is a biodegradable polysaccharide
ogy, greatly contributes to reduce the impact of having active amino groups. In general, the thermal
industrialization upon the environment. Reutilization properties of chitosan derivatives are similar to those
may be viewed as an economical practice but most of cellulose. They do not melt but degrade at ele-
importantly as a way to curtail the modern trend of a vated temperatures. Chitosan normally decomposes at
never ending use of disposable products. Recyclable, around 310 C. Many attempts were made in laboratory
polyethylene (PE) contributes to reduce the polymeric to blend chitosan with water-soluble polymers such as
waste.1,2 The fact that used plastic can be recycled again polyvinyl alcohol, PE oxide, or hydroxypropyl cellulose
and reused as their original product to prevent the which form well-miscible systems. Also many attempts
waste of potentially useful materials and reduces
energy usage. Therefore, studies on recycled plastic
are quite important because it will help to decrease
the amount of waste in the country. School of Material Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Perlis (UniMAP),
A tremendous awareness of the suitability of using Malaysia.
natural biopolymers for diversified applications in life
Corresponding author:
science is increasing. Natural biopolymers have several H. Salmah, Division of Polymer Engineering, School of Material
advantages, such as availability from replenishable Engineering, Universiti Malaysia Perlis, 02600 Jejawi, Perlis, Malaysia
agricultural or marine food resources, biocompatibility, Email:

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have been made at blending plastic materials with RPE are given in Table 1. Chitosan used as fillers in
chitosan.4–20 RPE and chitosan composites, was obtained from
The most important issue associated with these Hunza Nutriceuticals Sdn. Bhd., in powder form. The
composites is the interfacial adhesion between the nat- average particle size of chitosan is 85.4 mm. Table 2 gives
ural reinforcing fillers and matrix polymers. In order to the properties of chitosan. Compatibilizer was used
obtain good properties by improving the compatibility in RPE/chitosan composites was MAPE, supplied by
between these two materials with their different Aldrich and the amount applied is 3 php based on the
properties, studies have been performed on surface weight of RPE. Table 3 gives the properties of MAPE.
modification or treatment using a compatibilizing
agent. PE-graft-maleic anhydride (MAPE), the newly
developed maleated PE couplers were expected and
Mixing process
shown to be superior in the PE composites based on The mixing of the composites was carried out using
physical property data.20–24 Z-blade mixer at a temperature of 180 C and at a
The thermal degradation of polymers has been at the speed of 50 rpm. RPE charges the chamber for 15 min
center of thermal analysis studies for many years. until it completely melts. After 15 min, filler was added
Thermal analysis is an important analytical method in and mixing was continued for another 10 min. The total
understanding the structure–property relationship and mixing was conducted for 25 min. Sample of compos-
mastering the technology for molecular design and ites was compression molded in an electrically heated
industrial production of different polymeric materials.25 hydraulic press. Hot-press procedures involved pre-
Fundamental information regarding the thermal stabil- heating at 180 C for 6 min followed by compressing
ity of the composite materials to be processed is for 4 min at the same temperature and subsequent
obtained from the thermogravimetric (TGA) and dif- cooling under pressure for 4 min. The formulation for
ferential scanning calorimetric (DSC) analyses. TGA
is one of the thermal analysis techniques used to quan-
tify weight change and thermal decomposition of the
sample. The chemical composition, heating rate, tem- Table 1. Properties of RPE
perature, and inorganic substances are the major fac- RPE
tors that affect the thermal behavior of biomass. On the
other hand, DSC provides the melting temperature Tm Melt index 5 g/10 min
at which a transition occurs. It also provides the Density 0.922 g/cm3
enthalpy H associated with the transition. Studies of Melt temperature 160–180 C
the dependence of H on temperature can also be used
to obtain the change in heat capacity that occurs with
melting.26 Thermal methods, such as TGA and DSC Table 2. Properties of chitosan
have emerged as powerful thermo-analytical techniques
to monitor characteristic physical and chemical changes Chitosan
in both natural and synthetic polymers. Further, some Physical properties
of these changes involve the loss of material in volatil-  Appearance Off-white powder
ization which can be quantitatively measured by TGA.  Powder fineness Finer than 120 mesh size
In fact DSC is ideally suited for rapid screening and Chemical properties
finger printing purpose of materials, in solid state, as a  Degree of deacetylation >90.0%
function of temperature. A survey of recent literature  Solubility of 1% chitosan >99.0%
shows that thermal methods have been rarely used for in 1% acetic acid
monitoring the chemical and physical changes during  Viscosity 150–200 mPa s
various modifications of chitin and chitosan.  Moisture content <10.0%
In this article, the research was focused on the effects
 Ash content <1.0%
of chitosan loading and MAPE on the properties of
recycled polyethylene (RPE)/chitosan composites.
Table 3. Properties of MAPE

Experimental MAPE

Materials Chemical formula C8H10O3

Density 0.925 g/cm3
RPE used was of grade Titanlene LDF260GG, obtained
Melting point 120 C
from Titan Petchem (M) Sdn Bhd. The properties of

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Salmah and Azieyanti 3

RPE/chitosan composites with and without MAPE is were scanned from 50 C to 600 C using a nitrogen air
given in Table 4. flow of 50 mL/min and a heating rate of 20 C/min.

Measurement of mechanical properties Differential scanning calorimetry

Tensile test. Tensile test was carried out according to Thermal analysis measurements of selected systems
ASTM D 638 using an Instron Tensile model 5569. were performed using a Perkin Elmer DSC-7 analyzer.
The gage length was set at 50 mm and the cross-head Samples of about 10–25 mg were heated from 20 C to
speed of testing at 50 mm/min at 25  3 C. Tensile 250 C using a nitrogen air flow of 50 mL/min and the
strength, elongation at break, and Young’s modulus heating rate of 20 C/min. The melting and crystalliza-
were recorded and automatically calculated by the tion behaviors of selected composites were also per-
instrument software. formed using a PerkinElmer DSC-7. The crystallinity
(Xcom) of composites was determined using the follow-
Water absorption. RPE/chitosan composite samples ing relationship:
of approximate dimensions 25  20  1 mm3 were used
for the measurement of water absorption. The samples Xcom ð%crystÞ ¼ Hf =Hf  100
were oven-dried at 80 C for 24 h, and immersed in
distilled water at room temperature until a constant where Hf and Hf are enthalpies of fusion of the
weight was reached. A Mettler balance type was used, system and perfectly (100%) crystalline PE, respec-
with precision of 1 mg. The percentage of water tively. For Hf (PE), a value of 285 J/g was used for
absorption, (Mt) was calculated according to the 100% crystalline PE homopolymer.
following formula:

WN  Wd Results and discussion

Mt ¼  100
Effect of filler loading on mechanical properties
where Wd is the original dry weight and WN the weight Tensile properties. Figure 1 shows the effect of filler
after immersed. loading on tensile strength of RPE/chitosan composites
with and without MAPE as a compatibilizing agent.
It can be seen that the tensile strength of composites
Morphology study increased with increasing filler loading. At 0 php of chit-
Studies of the morphology of tensile fracture surface osan shows higher tensile strength because RPEs have
for RPE/chitosan composites were carried out using a fillers and other additives. At 10 php loading of chito-
scanning electron microscopy (SEM) model JOEL san, the tensile strength of RPE/chitosan drops but it
JSM-6460LA. SEM was used to examine qualitatively increases gradually with increasing of filler loading.
the dispersion of chitosan in RPE matrix. The fracture The increase of tensile strength with increasing chitosan
ends of specimens were mounted on aluminum stubs
and sputter-coated with a thin layer of palladium to
avoid electrostatic charging during examination.
RPE/Chitosan without MAPE
RPE/Chitosan with MAPE
Thermal gravimetric analysis
Tensile strength (MPa)

The thermogravimetric analyzer that has been used is 14
Perkin Elmer Instruments Technology by Seiko 12
Instruments (SII). Approximately, 5 mg of samples 10
Table 4. Formulations for RPE/chitosan composites
Materials (php) Without MAPE With MAPE 0
0 10 20 30 40
RPE 100 100
Filler loading (php)
Chitosan 0, 10, 20, 30, 40 0, 10, 20, 30, 40
MAPEa – 3
Figure 1. Effect of filler loading on tensile strength of RPE/
3 php from weight RPE. chitosan composites with and without MAPE.

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4 Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites 0(00)

loading due to increase in the ability of filler to support increased with increasing filler loading. Young’s mod-
stress transfer from matrix. At similar chitosan loading, ulus is an indication of the relative stiffness of compos-
the composites with MAPE shows higher tensile ites. The increase in the Young’s modulus also depends
strength compared to composites without MAPE. The on many factors such as the amount of filler used, the
higher tensile strength of composites with MAPE is due orientation of the fillers, the interaction and adhesion
to maleic anhydride group reaction with hydroxyl between the matrix, and the ratio of the filler to matrix.
group from chitosan. The application of compatibilizer At similar filler loading, the Young’s modulus of com-
in polymer composites was used to overcome the dis- posites with MAPE is higher compared to composites
persion problem and to enhance the mechanical without MAPE. The presence of compatibilizer
strength of composites by improving adhesion across becomes more effective on enhancing the modulus
the interface. Similar observation was also found by values. This is due to the higher chitosan stiffness of
some researchers.22–24 composites with MAPE and better interactions are
Figure 2 shows the effect of filler loading on elonga- obtained. The Young’s modulus of the MAPE-incorpo-
tion at break of RPE/chitosan composites with and rated composites was improved due to the better wet-
without MAPE. The elongation at break decreases stea- ting of MAPE to the PE matrix polymer.
dily with the increasing filler loading. The decrease in
elongation at break in filled polymer composites is due
to the fact that the deformation of the filler is generally Water absorption. Water absorption of composite is
much less than that of the polymer matrix; thus, the filler an important characteristic that determines end use
forces the matrix to deform more than the overall defor- applications of materials. Figure 4 shows the relation-
mation of the composite. At similar filler loading, the ship between percentages of water absorption of
elongation at break for RPE/chitosan with MAPE is
lower than the composites without MAPE. It is known 450
that fillers with higher stiffness than the matrix can 400
RPE/Chitosan without MAPE
Young’s modulus (MPa)

increase the modulus of composites, but generally RPE/Chitosan with MAPE

cause a dramatic decrease in the elongation at break. 300
The observed elongation at break of composites is a 250
clear indication of improved adhesion at the interface 200
between chitosan and RPE after treatment. If there is 150
a good adhesion between the filler and the matrix, a 100
decrease of elongation at break can be expected. The 50
important decrease in elongation at break noticed in 0
all the composites suggests a good degree of interfacial 0 10 20 30 40
compatibility between matrix and fillers.27,28 Filler loading (php)
Figure 3 shows the effect of filler loading on Young’s
modulus of RPE/chitosan composites with and without Figure 3. Effect of filler loading on Young’s modulus of RPE/
MAPE. The Young’s modulus of the composites chitosan composites with and without MAPE.

700 1.4 RPE/Chitosan: 100/0

RPE/Chitosan without MAPE RPE/Chitosan: 100/10
RPE/Chitosan: 100/20
600 RPE/Chitosan with MAPE 1.2
Elongation at break (%)

RPE/Chitosan: 100/30
Water absorption (%)

RPE/Chitosan: 100/40
500 1

400 0.8

300 0.6
200 0.4
100 0.2
0 0
0 10 20 30 40 0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Filler loading (php) Time (days)

Figure 2. Effect of filler loading on the elongation at break of Figure 4. Percentage of water absorption vs. time of RPE/
RPE/chitosan composites with and without MAPE. chitosan composites with different loadings.

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Salmah and Azieyanti 5

RPE/chitosan composites without MAPE at different compatibilizer prevents water molecule entering the com-
filler loadings. The percentage of water absorption posites, thus, limiting water absorption. Figure 6 shows
increases with increasing filler loading until the equilib- the percentage of equilibrium water absorption of RPE/
rium achieved for 30 days. Chitosan contains numerous chitosan composites with and without MAPE of different
hydroxyl groups available for interaction with water mol- filler loadings. The equilibrium of composites with
ecules by hydrogen bonding. Chitosan-reinforced poly- MAPE is lower than the composites without MAPE.
mers can take up high amounts of water. Figure 5 shows This is attributed to the presence of compatibilizer that
the comparison of water absorption between RPE/chit- reduces water absorption of composites.
osan with and without MAPE at 0, 20, and 40 php of
filler loadings. It was observed that the composites with
MAPE showed lower water absorption when compared Morphological studies. SEM micrographs of tensile
to composites without MAPE. This indicates that com- fracture surface for RPE/chitosan composites with and
patibilizer improved the compatibility between filler and without MAPE for 20 and 40 php are shown in
matrix. Good wetting of filler by the matrix and adequate Figures 7–10. Figures 7 and 8 show the tensile fracture
filler–matrix bonding can decrease the amount of water
absorbed in the interphasial region of the composites.
Establishment of bonds between hydroxyl group on
filler surface and maleic anhydride group from

RPE/Chitosan: 100/0
RPE/Chitosan: 100/20 (without MAPE)
RPE/Chitosan: 100/20 (with MAPE)
1.4 RPE/Chitosan: 100/40 (without MAPE)
RPE/Chitosan: 100/40 (with MAPE)
Water absorption (%)




0.2 Figure 7. The SEM micrograph of tensile fracture surface of

0 RPE/chitosan at 20 php without MAPE at magnification 200.
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website
Time (days) or mail to

Figure 5. Comparison of water absorption between RPE/chit-

osan composites with and without MAPE at 0, 20, and 40 php.

Equilibrium water absorption (%)

RPE/Chitosan (without MAPE)

1.2 RPE/Chitosan (with MAPE)





0 10 20 30 40
Filler loading (php)
Figure 8. The SEM micrograph of tensile fracture surface of
Figure 6. Percentage of equilibrium water absorption for RPE/ RPE/chitosan at 40 php without MAPE at magnification 200.
chitosan composites with and without MAPE different filler Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website
loadings. or mail to

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6 Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites 0(00)

surface micrograph for composites without MAPE. It can

be seen for composites without MAPE at 20 php chitosan
show ductile morphology compared to composites with-
out MAPE at 40 php, which exhibit more rough matrix
with the addition of chitosan. This result is supported
by the tensile properties as discussed previously, the
tensile strength increases with increasing filler loading.
The micrograph for RPE/chitosan composites with
MAPE in Figures 9 and 10 show more rough surface
with less evidence of voids compared to composites
without MAPE. The chitosan filler is well coated in the
matrix and the presence of MAPE improved the interfa-
cial adhesion between filler and matrix.

Thermal properties
Figure 10. The SEM micrograph of tensile fracture surface of
Figure 11 shows the TGA curve of RPE/chitosan com-
RPE/chitosan at 40 php with MAPE at magnification 200.
posites for different filler loadings. The data of TGA are
Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website
given in Table 5. From the table, it is clear that the or mail to


Weight loss (%)



RPE/Chitosan: 100/0
10 RPE/Chitosan: 100/20 (with MAPE)
RPE/Chitosan: 100/40 (without MAPE)
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700
Temperature (°C)

Figure 9. The SEM micrograph of tensile fracture surface of Figure 11. Thermogravimetry analysis curves of RPE/chitosan
RPE/chitosan at 20 php with MAPE at magnification 200. composites without MAPE at different filler loadings.
Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website or mail to or mail to

Table 5. Percentage weight loss of RPE/chitosan composites with and without MAPE at different temperatures

Weight loss (%)

Temperature RPE/chitosan: RPE/chitosan: 100/20 RPE/chitosan: 100/40 RPE/chitosan: 100/20 RPE/chitosan: 100/40
( C) 100/0 (without MAPE) (without MAPE) (with MAPE) (with MAPE)

25–100 0.01 0.19 0.58 0.24 0.21

100–200 0.05 1.22 1.94 2.21 1.32
200–300 0.42 2.80 4.38 3.48 2.39
300–400 3.26 11.48 18.63 15.72 11.17
400–500 93.56 70.46 59.34 60.11 67.72
500–630 2.70 13.84 14.33 17.06 14.21
Total weight loss 100 99.99 99.20 98.82 97.02

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Salmah and Azieyanti 7

increase of chitosan content had decreased the total stability of composites because physico-chemical adsorp-
weight loss. This indicates that at higher chitosan loading tion of the volatile products on chitosan, which indicates
it has a better thermal stability of composites. However, that the dispersion of chitosan was improved by the addi-
at similar chitosan loading, the composites modified with tion of compatibilizer in polymer.29–32
MAPE have lower total weight loss compared with com- Figure 13 shows the DSC thermograms of RPE/chit-
posites without MAPE. This indicates that composites osan composites without MAPE at different filler load-
with MAPE have higher thermal stability than compos- ing. Table 6 gives the values of melting temperature
ites without MAPE. Figure 12 shows the TGA curve of (Tm), the heat of fusion of composites (Hf(com)), and
RPE/chitosan composites at 40 php with and without the crystallinity of the composites (Xcom). Table 6 gives
MAPE. The addition of MAPE has increased the thermal the enthalpy and crystallinity of RPE/chitosan without
MAPE which increases with increasing chitosan load-
ing. The increase in crystallization of composites with
110 increasing filler loading should be attributed to the
90 nucleation agent of the chitosan. At similar filler load-
Weight loss (%)

70 ing, composites with MAPE exhibited higher enthalpy

of composites (Hf(com)) and crystallinity composites
(Xcom) than composites without MAPE. The improve-
30 RPE/Chitosan: 100/0
ment of crystallinity of RPE/chitosan composites with
RPE/Chitosan: 100/40 (without MAPE)
RPE/Chitosan: 100/40 (with MAPE)
MAPE is due to the enhancement of interfacial interac-
–10 tion between chitosan and matrix with the presence of
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 MAPE that increases the compatibility of composites.
Temperature (°C)

Figure 12. Thermogravimetry analysis curves of RPE/chitosan
composites at 40 php with and without MAPE. The properties of RPE/chitosan biopolymer composites
Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website were improved using the MAPE as a compatibilizer. The or mail to results show that the tensile strength, Young’s modulus,
and water absorption increase with increasing filler load-
ing. However, the elongation at break decreases with
9 increasing filler loading. The tensile strength and
Young’s modulus improved with the incorporation of
compatibilizing agents. The composites with MAPE
Heat flow (W/g)

5 show better resistance to water absorption compared
4 to composites without MAPE. The addition of MAPE
3 has positive effect on the properties and can overcome
RPE/Chitosan: 100/0
RPE/Chitosan: 100/20 (without MAPE)
the incompatibility problem between matrix and fillers
1 RPE/Chitosan: 100/40 (without MAPE) of the composites. SEM micrograph of RPE/chitosan
0 with MAPE shows better interfacial interaction. The
0 50 100 150 200 250 300
thermal stability and crystallinity of composites
Temperature (°C)
improved with the addition of MAPE.

Figure 13. DSC thermograms of RPE/chitosan composites

without MAPE at different filler loadings. Note
Source: For more details about Figures 7–13 refer our website
For more details about Figures 7–13 refer to our website or mail to or mail:

Table 6. DSC analysis of RPE/chitosan composites with and without MAPE at different filler loadings

Sample Tm ( C) Hf(com) (J/g) Xcom (% crystallinity)

RPE/chitosan: 100/0 130 52.97 18.6

RPE/chitosan: 100/20 (without MAPE) 132 97.46 34.2
RPE/chitosan: 100/40 (without MAPE) 131 108.8 38.2
RPE/chitosan: 100/20 (with MAPE) 132 124.4 43.6
RPE/chitosan: 100/40 (with MAPE) 133 147.2 51.7

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8 Journal of Reinforced Plastics and Composites 0(00)

Acknowledgment 16. Kofuji K, Qian CJ, Nishimura M, Sugiyama I, Murata Y

Appreciation is given to School of Materials Engineering, and Kawashima S. Relationship between physicochemical
UniMAP. characteristics and functional properties of chitosan.
Eur Polym J 2005; 41: 2784–2791.
17. Fattah WIA, Jiang T, Bassyouni GETE and Laurencin
CT. Synthesis, characterization of chitosans and fabrica-
This research was supported by Ministry of Higher Education tion of sintered chitosan microsphere matrices for bone
(KPT) for providing Fundamental Research Grant Schemes tissue engineering. Acta Biomater 2007; 3(4): 503–514.
(FRGS). 18. Qu X, Wirsen A and Albertsson AC. Effect of lactic/gly-
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