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GOING BANANAS OVER ECO-PLASTICS

PTA News Bureau

Nigerian Engineer Ikechukwu Christian Ezema, who is teaching in the Department of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering of the University of Nigeria, finds that banana trunks or stems, which are generally thrown away as waste, can find valuable use in producing environment-friendly rubber composites. Such products will have use in varied industries such as automobile, construction and energy.

His research team has developed a process to modify banana fibres to make biodegradable rubber composite for automobile panels, floor tiles, parapet wall-coverings and low-cost housing. This will give the rubber industry, which is currently facing price instability, the much needed push for further growth through value addition.

The composite technology also contributes to environmental sustainability as it can replace synthetic materials. The research is in time with current trends towards replacement of high-performance fibres such as carbon, aramid and glass fibres with eco products that offer renewability, low-cost, specific stiffness and a high degree of crystallinity.

The challenges Ezema faced in processing banana stem for producing the rubber composites were many. As all natural fibres are hydrophilic (having water content), they required specific treatment for modification.

He used sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphite to reduce their water absorption capacities thereby improving the interfacial bonding.

“Banana-rubber composites are biodegradable and as such will contribute to improved environmental sustainability,” he explained.

Green challenges

Since there is a surge in demand for biodegradable products in the automobile industry the rubber composites made with banana stem is likely to see its market enlarging, Ezema said.

His research interests cover polymers for corrosion nano-coatings for oil and gas/power plant installations and materials for construction, particularly low-cost materials for rural dwellers, To keep with the market trends, automakers are increasingly designing parts that are bio-based and renewable.

The other advantage of the composite material is its usefulness in achieving reduction in petroleum use, life cycle emissions and lower weight. Since plastic usage in vehicles is on the rise, the use of environment-friendly plastic is becoming increasingly important.

(Full Text in PTA Feb/March issue)

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