Our earlier paper (Jana, S.C.; Prieto, A. J Appl Polym Sci 2002, 86, 2159) on the development of natural fiber composites of high-performance thermoplastic polymers described a new methodology for the manufacturing of composite materials of a high-temperature thermoplastic polymer, poly(phenylene ether) (PPE) and wood flour, a cellulosic natural filler. A thermosetting epoxy, used as a reactive solvent, reduced the processing temperature of PPE/epoxy blends to well below the decomposition temperature of natural fillers. In addition, the epoxy component, upon polymerization, formed coating layers around the filler particles to provide resistance against moisture diffusion and attacks by acids and alkali. This article describes the results of an investigation on two outstanding issues: (1) the influence of cellulosic wood particles and coupling agents on the speed of epoxy curing and reaction-induced phase separation and (2) the effects of coupling agents on the morphology of crosslinked epoxy at the surfaces of natural fillers and mechanical properties of the composites. It was found that wood particles expedited epoxy curing in the composites; the extent of epoxy curing, however, was reduced in the presence of coupling agents. Also, the coupling agents promoted complete coverage of wood flour particles by polymerized epoxy, although the mechanical properties deteriorated over systems without coupling agents.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/sadhan_jana/170/