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Vol. 9. Issue 2.
Pages 1734-1741 (March - April 2020)
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Vol. 9. Issue 2.
Pages 1734-1741 (March - April 2020)
Original Article
DOI: 10.1016/j.jmrt.2019.12.004
Open Access
Ballistic behavior of epoxy matrix composites reinforced with piassava fiber against high energy ammunition
Fabio Da Costa Garcia Filho
Corresponding author

Corresponding author.
, Michelle Souza Oliveira, Artur Camposo Pereira, Lucio Fabio Cassiano Nascimento, José Ricardo Gomes Matheus, Sergio Neves Monteiro
Military Institute of Engineering - IME, Department of Materials Science, Praça General Tibúrcio, 80, Urca, RJ, 22290-270, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
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Figures (6)
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Tables (4)
Table 1. Energy absorption by the composites plates.
Table 2. Analysis of variance, ANOVA, for the energy absorption data.
Table 3. Honestly significant difference, Tukey test, for the mean values of the energy absorption by the composites plates.
Table 4. Limit velocity for the tested conditions as well as other materials.
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Multilayered Armor Systems are low density plates used in personal protection against high-impact energy ammunition. Such system promotes effective protection, by dissipating the projectile energy and preventing the penetration of fragments. Kevlar™ is commonly used as one of the layers. However, recently, cost-effectives composites reinforced with natural fibers have been considered as an alternative. This work aimed to evaluate the performance of epoxy matrix composites reinforced with stiffer natural piassava fibers as a standing alone target against high energy ammunition. Composites with up to 50vol% of piassava fibers were produced by press molding. The influence of the volume fraction in the main failure mode observed and the limit velocity ballistic parameter were determined. Macro and microscopically analyses were performed to determinate the failure mechanism. Statistical analyses were used to evaluate the results obtained. It was verified that the 50vol% reinforced composites were those that presented the best performance, which was found comparable to the results obtained for Kevlar™.

Natural fibers
Piassava fiber
Ballistic behavior.
Full Text

In the last decades, sustainable issues regarding the use and development of materials of natural origin have brought attention from research groups all over the world. Indeed, topics such as recyclability and renewability as well as biodegradability and eco-efficiency strongly influence the processing and design of new materials [1–3]. Natural lignocellulosic fibers (NLFs) are relevant examples of renewable materials capable of substituting synthetic fibers due to their lightweight and biodegradability as well as physical and mechanical properties [4–7]. Cost-effective composites produced with NLFs reinforcing polymer matrix are already being used in engineering applications such as automobile [8,9], packing [10], and building construction [11]. More recently others possible applications for NFLs composites were also investigated, especially in ballistic protection as part of a multilayered armor systems (MAS) [12–17]. When used against high energy ammunition, such as 7.62mm ammunition, the MAS is commonly composed of at least two different layers. A hard ceramic material is usually required as front layer for the fragmentation and absorption of most of the kinetic energy of the bullet. As second layer, a high performance synthetic fabric, such as Kevlar™, or a polymeric composite reinforced with fibers are currently considered. This layer dissipates the remaining energy by a mechanism of capture the fragments generated by the bullet/ceramic impact [18].

A relatively unknown natural fiber extracted from the piassava palm tree (Attalea funifera), typical of Brazil, has been investigated as polymer composite reinforcement [19]. As shown in the adapted Fig.1, the surface, Fig. 1(a) and (b), of the piassava fiber has silica-based spiny protrusions associated with a rigid condition. Indeed, this fiber is one of the stiffest NLFs with promising mechanical properties as polymer composite reinforcement owing to the anchor-adhesion effect, Fig. 1(c), provide by the spiny protrusions. It is well known that the difference between the hydrophobic polymeric matrix and hydrophilic natural fiber reinforcement is the main responsible for weak adhesion in these composites. However, the surface spiny protrusions, Fig1(a), present on piassava fiber surface could add an extra adhesion between the fiber and the matrix due to mechanical anchoring. For example, both flexural strength, Fig. 1(d), and Charpy impact resistance, Fig.1 (e), of polyester matrix composites display significant increase with incorporation of piassava fibers. Recently the functionalization by grapheme oxide (GO) has been considered as a new strategy for improving the properties of composite materials, especially for those that combine hydrophilic and hydrophobic materials [20–23]. Zhang et al. [20] obtained an increase rate of 74 % in the tensile strength of their graphene oxide-functionalized nanodiamonds incorporated carboxylated-polimeric composites. Costa et al. [22] reported an increase of interface shear strength of 51.12 % for curaua fiber functionalized with GO in epoxy matrix, as compared to plain curaua fiber/epoxy.

Fig. 1.

Basic characteristic of piassava fiber: (a) spiny protrusions (2000x) and surface aspect (100x). Polyester composites reinforced with piassava fibers: (c) schematic of surface/matrix adhesion; (d) flexuaral strength and (e) charpy impact energy variations with amount (vol%) of fibers.


The possibility of making a relatively strong and tougher piassava fiber composite motivated the investigation of its use as MAS second layer. In a recent work [24] epoxy composites with different volume fraction of piassava fibers with distinct configurations, unidirectional and cross-ply, were ballistic tested. It was found that these composites exhibited behavior similar to the penetration and backface signature (P-BFS) reported for aramid fabric, commercially known as Kevlar™, and also similar to other natural fibers reinforced composites used as MAS second layer. It is also worth mentioning that NLFs present low cost of production as a remarkable advantage in comparison to synthetic fibers. The cost of natural fibers can be up to 70 times lower than Dyneema™ [25] and almost 8 times lower than Kevlar™ [26].

The importance regarding the investigation of the piassava fiber as reinforcement of polymer matrix composites lies in three main factors: the mechanical properties, workability and fiber supply. As for the mechanical properties, it was reported that tensile strength varies from 109 to 147MPa, that values are superior to most polymers used as matrix [27]. This favors the reinforcement by piassava fibers for which the aforementioned variation of tensile strength is associated with the difference in diameter. Piassava fibers with smaller diameter tend to exhibit higher strengths, since the size and distribution of critical defects decrease in comparison with those of greater diameters [28]. As for the workability, recent work discussed some characteristics of the piassava fiber [29]. The stiffness of the piassava fiber facilitates its uniform incorporation into polymer matrices in comparison with most NLFs. Furthermore, the water resistance, which is associated with its composition as well as the silicon rich protrusions attached to its surface, are other main aspects that support the use of this fiber as reinforcement of polymer matrix composites. Finally, the supply of piassava fiber is favored by its extensive use in broom and industrial brushes in Brazil. Moreover it is estimated that more than 60 Tonnes of piassava fibers are industrially produced per year only in Brazil and approximately 25 % of these fibers are disregarded during production [5,30]. So the use of this fiber not only explores the possibility of a new type of reinforcement material for polymer matrix composite, but also provides an engineering application to this important industrial waste. Nevertheless, many others properties of natural fiber composite under dynamic regimen needs better understanding and deeper investigation. When used as a standing alone target the energy absorption contribution of the MAS second layer might be calculated but also the failure mechanisms of these composites could be revealed. In this context, the objective of the present work was to evaluate the behavior of piassava fiber reinforced epoxy composites when applied as a standing alone ballistic target. The ammount of fiber reinforcement varied in the range from 10 to 50vol% and the configuration of the composite was set as unidirectional long fibers embedded in the epoxy matrix.

2Materials and methods

Piassava fibers were supplied in a bundle by Varrouras Rossi, Brazil. The polymeric matrix was a commercially available epoxy resin type bisphenol-A diglycidyl ether (DGEBA) hardened with triethylene tetramine (TETA) using the stoichiometric ratio phr=13. Both DGEBA and TETA were fabricated by Dow Chemical, Brazil, and supplied by Epoxy Fiber, Brazil. Composite plates, with dimensions of 60×75×10 mm3, were produced by the addition of proper amount of piassava fiber and still fluid epoxy resin plus hardener into a metallic mold. A pressure of 3MPa was applied and the curing process was carried out at room temperature for 24h. The composite plates were denominated as PRE10, PRE20, PRE30, PRE40 and PRE50 in association with the volume fraction of 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50vol% incorporated piassava fibers, respectively.

Ballistic tests were performed at the Brazilian Army Assessment Center (CAEx), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For the shooting device, a High Pressure Instrumentation (HPI) gun barrel equipped with laser sight, model B290, was used. The samples, also called target, were placed 15m from the gun barrel, and the bullet trajectory was described as perpendicular. The ammunition was a commercial 7.62mm M1, full metal jacketed bullet with 9,7g. The projectile velocity was measured before and after the ballistic impact with a model SL-520P Weibel Doppler radar, Denmark, provided with Windopp software to process the radar raw data. The schematic illustration of the ballistic test is shown in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2.

Schematic illustration of the ballistic test.


The relationship between the kinetic energy of the bullet and the energy absorbed by the target material in a ballistic impact was first approached by Morye et al. [31]. That investigation proposed that the energy absorption could be simply related to the variation of kinetic energy of the bullet just before and immediately after the impact. Therefore, this estimative would depend on the bullet velocity before (Vb) and after (Va) the impact as well as the bullet mass (m):

Another dynamic parameter, which is considered important for materials used in ballistic armors is the limit velocity (VL). The limit velocity consider a situation where the velocity after the ballistic impact would be equal to zero, in this scenario the projectile would be stopped by the target material. So, once again, the determination of this parameter would only depend on the measurement of the velocity of the bullet. The limit velocity (VL) could be estimated by:

The ballistic test results were statistically treated using the analysis of variance (ANOVA) [32]. This is a powerful analysis that verifies with a high degree of confidence, if the amount of fibers used as reinforcement of the composite influences the results obtained. This analysis is based on statistical parameters such as degrees of freedom (DF), sum of squares (SS), mean squares (MS), the Snedecor F and Fc, calculated and critical, respectively. After that, the Tukey’s test, a further statistical test, was performed. It compares the mean values, two by two, in order to quantify if there is a significant difference among the tested conditions. This test is also called honestly significant difference (HSD) and is associated with Eq. (3):

After the ballistic impact the plates were macro and microscopically analyzed in order to verify the major failure mechanisms associated with the composite fracture. For the microscopically analysis scanning electron microscopy (SEM), model Quanta FEG 250 FEI equipment.

3Results and discussion

The values of Vb and Va were measured in all ballistic tests and allowed the calculation of energy absorption through Eq.(1). Table 1 summarizes the kinetic energy absorption by the targets of different conditions. Considering only the mean values and the standard deviation, one may verify the influence of the amount of fiber used as reinforcement in the energy absorption. But the validation of such results still relies on the statistical analyses.

Table 1.

Energy absorption by the composites plates.

  PRE10  PRE20  PRE30  PRE40  PRE50 
Energy absorbed (J)282  196  190  184  198 
243  210  216  210  209 
282  170  184  194  207 
280  208  209  181  201 
Mean and standard deviation  272±19 J  196±18 J  200±15 J  192±13 J  204±5 J 

Table 2 presents the ANOVA analyses of the data. In this table, it is listed the statistical parameters that influence the reliability of the results. Comparing the F (19.8) value with Fc (3.06) and since F>Fc. The hypothesis that the mean values are the same can be rejected with 95 % confidence. Therefore, it was statistically proved that the amount of fiber in the target, indeed, influenced the kinetic energy absorption.

Table 2.

Analysis of variance, ANOVA, for the energy absorption data.

  DF  SS  MS  Fc 
Treatment  17731  4432.7  19.8  3.06 
Residue  15  3357  223.8     
Total  19  21088       

After the ANOVA, it was possible to compare the mean values using the Tukey test. The value of q for 5 treatments and 15 degrees of freedom of the residue is 4.37. Thus, the honestly significant difference (HSD) was calculated by Eq.(2) as 32.7 J. Table 3 shows the comparison between the mean values using the HSD. This table presents (highlighted) the differences between means values that were greater than the HSD.

Table 3.

Honestly significant difference, Tukey test, for the mean values of the energy absorption by the composites plates.

Material  PRE10  PRE20  PRE30  PRE40  PRE50 
PRE10  76  72  80  68 
PRE20  76 
PRE30  72 
PRE40  80  12 
PRE50  68  12 

Based on the results obtained, one may infer that the PRE10 condition was the one that presented the highest energy absorption. Such behavior may be associated with the relative brittle epoxy matrix, which tends to dissipate energy by the generation of fractured surfaces. This could be considered an indicative that the reinforcement of the fiber was not done in an effective way and right amount. In fact, the HSD showed that the composites PRE20, PRE30, PRE40 and PRE50 present values of energy absorption lower than that exhibited for the PRE10 condition.

Fig. 3 (a) to (e) shows the macroscopic fracture aspect of all conditions tested after the ballistic tests. The PRE10 condition, in Fig. 3(a), displays a considerable rupture pattern with no preferred direction, which resulted in a complete fragmentation of the target. In spite of the higher energy absorption, fragmentation is a practical problem when the material is considered for ballistic armor application, in which it would be subjected to multiple impacts. Compared with the amount of energy absorbed by the Kevlar™ laminate, 220±17J [17], one may see that the energy absorption are statistically the same for the PRE20, PRE30, PRE40 and PRE50 conditions. Then again, when it is considered the after impact appearance of the tested plate, i.e., the physical integrity of the composite, the condition that stands out as the most integer is that of PRE50. Although such condition absorbed less energy than PRE10, the ability to maintain its physical integrity after a ballistic impact is of great importance for application as MAS component against multi-hit standard ballistic tests [13–16]. In comparison with the other conditions, the amount of energy absorbed was not significantly higher. In all cases there was only partial degradation of the composite. However, a direct relationship between the amount of piassava fibers used as reinforcement and the final cost of the composite, stimulate the use of the PRE50 condition.

Fig. 3.

Macroscopic aspect of the composite target after the ballistic impact conditions: (a) PRE10, (b) PRE20, (c) PRE30, (d) PRE40 and (e) PRE50.


The brittle characteristic exhibit by the condition with lower amount of fiber reinforcement, PRE10, may be due to the ineffectively percentage of reinforcement. In this case, the brittleness of the epoxy matrix was held responsible for the main mechanism of failure of the PRE10 composite. As the amount of fiber reinforcing the matrix increases, more impact resistant the material will become [19]. Thus, more complex fracture mechanisms will be acting, such as fracture of matrix and fibers as well as fiber pullout, fiber bridging and delamination effects.

Fig. 4 shows microscopic evidence of matrix failure and fiber delamination mechanisms exhibit by the composites after the ballistic impact. It is proposed that these are the main mechanisms that contribute to the dissipation of energy.

Fig. 4.

Microscopic aspect of composite target after the ballistic impact. Different failure mechanisms pointed by arrows.


Fig. 5 (a) and (b) shows in details the delamination mechanism. This behavior may be associated with difference in the nature of the polymer matrix and the natural fiber. While the polymer matrix displays a hydrophobic characteristic, the piassava like other NLFs exhibits a hydrophilic nature. This difference in nature impairs the interfacial adhesion of the reinforcement in the matrix. Therefore the crack tends to occur between this interface and the delamination mechanism takes place, as shown in Fig. 5 (a). Additionally, Fig. 5 (b) exhibits an imprinted piassava fiber surface in the polymeric matrix due to evidence of complete delamination by total fiber.

Fig. 5.

Delamination mechanism (a) interfacial failure between fiber and matrix and (b) imprinted surface of piassava fiber on the epoxy matrix after fiber complete separation.


Fig. 6 (a) to (f) shows several others failure mechanisms that occur simultaneously during the ballistic impact.

Fig. 6.

Failure mechanisms observed simultaneously during the ballistic impact. (a) and (b) matrix brittle failure and river marks, (c) fracture of fiber and microfibrils rupture and (d) pullout mechanism.


Fig. 6 (a) and (b) the brittle behavior of the epoxy matrix can be verified. Such behavior is evidenced by the appearance of river marks in the epoxy matrix. Similar behavior was reported by Nascimento et al. [33] for an epoxy matrix composite reinforced with mallow fibers, especially accentuated for lower volume percent of fiber reinforcement. The brittleness of the polymeric matrix failure mechanism was observed in all conditions investigated and associated with others failure modes involving the fibers. In Fig. 6 (c) one may notice the fracture of the fiber, which exhibits fragile characteristic, is verified by the rupture of the internal channels related to the cellular structure. Such cellular structure was well described for lignocellulosic natural fibers by Kalia et al. [34] as microfibrils arrangement with mechanical and functional commitment. Finally, Fig.6 (d) presents both the pullout hole and fiber drawn out mechanisms. These mechanisms are characterized by the withdrawal of the fiber from the polymeric matrix, usually in the same direction of the load. They are commonly used to describe failure in composites reinforced with fibers with low interfacial adhesion under static or quasi-static loads [35]. Such mechanisms were also observed after a dynamic event, the ballistic impact, with the same aspect as those reported for static or quasi-static stain rate.

The ballistic parameter of limit velocity (VL) was estimated by Eq.(2). The results in Table 4 disclose not only the VL parameter reported for different polymeric composites reinforced by natural fibers but also the corresponding value for Kevlar™.

Table 4.

Limit velocity for the tested conditions as well as other materials.

Condition  VL (m/s)  Reference 
PRE10  236±*PW 
PRE20  200±*PW 
PRE30  202±*PW 
PRE40  198±*PW 
PRE50  204±*PW 
Epoxy/Mallow fibers  231±18  33 
Polyester/Curaua fibers  207±21  17 
KevlarTM  212±23  17 

*PW=Present work.

This result show that the epoxy matrix composite reinforced with piassava fiber used as a standing alone target is not able to promote an effective protection against 7.62mm ballistic threat. For this kind of ammunition the velocity of ballistic impact is higher than 800m/s while the bullet would be stopped by the composite only in the range of 200–240m/s regarding the amount of fiber reinforcement. Therefore, it is recommended the use of this material as part of a multilayered armor system (MAS) as discussed elsewhere [24].

4Summary and conclusion

  • Epoxy matrix composites reinforced with different volume fractions of 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50vol% of piassava fibers, PRE10, PRE20, PRE30, PRE40 and PRE50, respectively, were ballistically evaluated against 7.62mm high impact energy ammunition in stand alone test.

  • The PRE10 condition presented the highest amount of energy absorbed among all tested conditions. However, this energy absorption was due to the mechanism of fragmentation of the composite, which is a characteristic of the brittle epoxy matrix. This condition of lost integrity may be considered unsuitable for ballistic armor application, based on the multiple hit standard condition.

  • PRE20, PRE30, PRE40 and PRE50 composites presented an acceptable behavior, by combining high energy absorption after the ballistic impact with relatively good physical integrity. The amount of energy absorbed by these composites is statistically the same as for the Kevlar™ laminate under the same test condition.

  • Scanning electron microscopy observation revealed fracture mechanisms associated with brittle rupture of the epoxy matrix as well as piassava microfibril rupture and fibers pullout.

  • The ballistic parameter of limit velocity has the same order of magnitude of those reported for others composites reinforced with natural fibers as well as for the Kevlar™ laminate.

  • Reinforced composites with piassava fibers were found to be potential candidates for use as an intermediate layer of multilayer armor systems for individual protection. In contrast to the synthetic fibers usually employed, these composites are lightweight, have lower production costs and are environmentally correct.


The authors thank the support to this investigation by the Brazilian agencies: CNPq, FAPERJ and CAPES.

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