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Vol. 8. Issue 4.
Pages 3466-3474 (July - August 2019)
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Vol. 8. Issue 4.
Pages 3466-3474 (July - August 2019)
Original Article
DOI: 10.1016/j.jmrt.2019.06.016
Open Access
Tensile, physical and morphological properties of oil palm empty fruit bunch/sugarcane bagasse fibre reinforced phenolic hybrid composites
Nor Azlina Ramleea, Mohammad Jawaida,
Corresponding author

Corresponding author.
, Edi Syams Zainudinb, Shaikh Abdul Karim Yamanic
a Department of Biocomposite Laboratory, Institute of Tropical Forestry and Forest Products (INTROP), Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
b Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
c Department of Wood Technology, Faculty of Applied Science, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Campus of Jengka 26400, Bandar Tun Abdul Razak Jengka, Pahang, Malaysia
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Tables (4)
Table 1. Mechanical and physical properties of oil palm empty fruit bunch and sugarcane bagasse [24–26].
Table 2. Formulation of composites.
Table 3. Chemical composition of OPEFB and SCB fiber.
Table 4. Density and void content of pure and hybrid composites.
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Recently, agriculture residue such as oil palm empty fruit bunch (OPEFB) and sugarcane bagasse (SCB) fiber have been attracting attention to a researcher as a high potential reinforcement material for composite material in building sector. Agriculture biomass are biodegradable, sustainable, low cost and lightweight materials for composite industries. In this paper, OPEFB and SCB fiber used as filler in different ratio to fabricate hybrid composites by hand lay-up technique while maintaining total fibre loading 50 wt%. Tensile test using UTM INSTRON machine, water absorption, thickness swelling, density, void content and micrographs of hybrid composites and pure were determined. This research found that hybridization of OPEFB/SCB fiber composites indicates better performance and properties comparing with pure fiber composites. Obtained results showed that 7OPEFB:3SCB hybrid composites display highest tensile strength and modulus, 5.56 MPa and 661.MPa, respectively with less porous and voids area compared to pure composites. While 3OPEFB:7SCB hybrid composites show lower water absorption and thickness swelling after 24 h analysis. This research addresses agriculture residue seen as an alternative green product material to apply in wall as a thermal insulation and heat retention, which are important in buildings and construction sector for the purpose of energy saving.

Oil palm empty fruit bunch
Sugarcane bagasse
Phenolic resin hybrid composite
Tensile properties
Physical properties
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Over the last few decades, researchers show an increased interest in work involving the use of natural fibres such flax, hemp, jute, kenaf, sisal, oil palm and etc. [1–4] to reinforce as lightweight materials with thermoplastics and thermosets in industries. The growing interest in natural fiber field leads development on green composite incorporation with polymer matrix. The versatile natural fiber composites highly applied in constructions [5] and automobile [6] industry nowadays. These industries have started the manufacturing of products using natural fibre in order to improve the environmental impact of the product, sustainability, recyclability, eco-friendly material, low in cost, decrease environmental pollution due to the optimizing in reused of agriculture by-product and reduce global warming issue as well [7,8].

Various studies found the major component in lignocellulosic material such cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin content a unique property to obtain high mechanical and good physical characteristic for fabrication of polymer composites. In 2012, Malaysia had 5.08 million hectares of oil palm plantation and oil palm industry generates about 70 million ton of biomass plant residue [9]. Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) are cultivated in Malaysia as an agricultural crop and resulted huge amount of biomass materials mainly in form of fibres from trunk, frond, mesocarp, palm kernel shell and empty fruit bunch [10]. Several studies reported that oil palm empty fruit bunch (OPEFB) consists of high cellulose content of 48%, 49.8% and 65% [11–13] represent good tensile support in reinforcement with thermoset and thermoplastic polymers.

In order to increase the mechanical and physical performance of natural fiber from agriculture by-product, study on development of hybrid composites offer benefits to develop products with better strength and fracture for various industrial applications. Looking towards on environmental issue nowadays, the hybridization composites by utilizing natural/natural fiber are more concerning on safety and efficiency to user compared to natural/synthetic fiber based hybrid composites. Previous study reported tensile and flexural characteristic of pure OPEFB composites can be improved by hybridization with woven jute fiber [14]. Jawaid et al. found the tensile properties of hybrid composite is higher than pure OPEFB composite but it less than woven jute composite [14]. Furthermore, increasing the content of kenaf fiber to oil palm composites in oil palm/kenaf fiber hybrid composites reinforced with epoxy have been increasing the tensile and flexural strength [15]. Hybrid composite for oil palm EFB-Jute-EFB performed 11.20% of water absorption when compared to pure oil palm EFB composite, 21.39% water absorption [16].

At the same time, abundant agriculture waste from sugarcane industries become a environmental issue. Sugarcane bagasse is fibrous by product of sugar extraction from sugarcane, (Saccharum officinarum) consists of hard fibrous part called rind and soft material part known as pith [17] and consisting of cane bagasse45-–55% cellulose, 20–25% hemicellulose, 18–24% lignin, ash 1.3% and other components 2.8% [18,19]. The traditional utilization of sugarcane bagasse husk consumes only a small percentage from the total waste of sugarcane industry. Hence, recently researcher found capability and effort from this by product can be used as a raw material for various type application especially in construction, such as building panel board, cementitious composite including utilization sugarcane bagasse as reinforcement in polymer hybrid composites. In other hand, use of bagasse fiber in building product seem performs similarly to hardwood fiber in natural composites board material. From previous investigation, hybrid composites of bagasse and glass fiber reinforce with epoxy resin improves the modulus of elasticity [20]. Evaluation from previous study showed 30 wt% of bagasse and 50 wt% glass fiber mixed composite have approximately same hardness as commercial available bagasse board [20]. Others study found water absorption and thickness swelling of the sugarcane bagasse composites are in high percentage 87% [21]. Currently, various resin types have been used to increased mechanical properties and improve dimensional stability of natural fibre composites. One of common polymer matrix used are phenol formaldehyde (PF). Phenol formaldehyde also known as phenolic resin is utilized due to its excellent in thermal properties, water resistant, chemical bond, mechanical strength and high performance in glue-bond linking formation [22]. In wide usage area, phenolic resin very advance applied in hybrid technology for making thermal material for building and automobile compartment. Composites were prepared at 50 wt% fiber loading with 50% of phenolic resin indicates better tensile, flexural and impact due to good fibre/matrix interfacial bonding [24]. Sreekala et al. [25] studied that mechanical properties of oil palm fibres reinforced phenolic formaldehyde (PF); OP/PF composites exhibit excellent mechanical performance and reduce in water absorption.

The aim of this study is to fabricate hybrid composites consists of oil palm empty fruit bunch and sugarcane bagasse fiber composites reinforced with phenol formaldehyde (PF). This present paper highlights an investigation of the potential effect of OPEFB and sugarcane bagasse fiber ratio on tensile strength, density, water absorption, thickness swelling, void content and morphological properties of pure and hybrid composites. In the context of green material product, researcher tries to explore and find alternative utilization of abundant fibers from plant residue in Malaysia for producing hybrid composites. Hence, in this research effort have been made in order to produce thermal insulation board for building efficiency and sustainability in current urbanizing world. Attempt has been made to compare the properties of the composites fabricated between pure composites and hybrid composites by remain each ratio formulation with 50 wt% of phenolic resin.

2Materials and method2.1Materials

The mechanical and physical properties of oil palm empty fruit bunch and sugarcane bagasse fiber are listed in Table 1. OPEFB fiber used in this study was supplied by Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), Malaysia and sugarcane bagasse fiber was collected from local market located at Banting, Selangor. Novolac type phenolic formaldehyde (PF) resin was purchased from Chemovate Girinagar, Bangalore, India.

Table 1.

Mechanical and physical properties of oil palm empty fruit bunch and sugarcane bagasse [24–26].

Properties  OPEFB fiber  SCB fiber 
Tensile strength (MPa)  60–81  20–50 
Young Modulus (GPa)  1–9  2.7 
Density (g/cm3)  0.7–1.55  0.40–0.55 
Diameter (µm)  250–610  120–700 
Elongation at break (%)  8–18  0.9–1.1 
2.2Preparation of OPEFB and SCB fibre

OPEFB fiber with size ±13 mm was dried in oven with temperature 40 °C for 24 h to maintained 10–13% moisture content. The sugarcane bagasse fibre was initially immersed in clean tap water for 24 h. Then were washed with tap water several times to remove any impurities attached to SCB and finally rinsed with hot water in order to reduce the sugar content. SCB fiber was dried in air circulating oven with temperature 60 °C for 48 h. The dry SCB fiber was ground to a size of ±13 mm using a crusher machine.

2.3Fabricating of composites

The pure and hybrid composites with formulation in Table 2 were fabricated using hand lay- up technique with size mould of 300 mm × 300 mm × 10 mm stainless steel plate. Fiber as a filler were uniformly mixed manually with phenolic resin for 15 min. Then, the mixture was spread into mould properly. Mould plate was placed into 40 tons hot press moulding machine (Vechno Vation Carver, IN, USA) at 150 °C. The composites were compressed for 10 min until thickness of 10 mm achieved. Finally, the composites were cold pressed for 5 min and composites plate were cut for testing according to ASTM standard.

Table 2.

Formulation of composites.

Designation ratio of composites and hybrid composites  Phenolic resin (wt%)  OPEFB (wt%)  SCB (wt%) 
Pure OPEFB  50  50 
Pure SCB  50  50 
7 OPEFB:3 SCB  50  35  15 
5 OPEFB:5 SCB  50  25  25 
3 OPEFB:7 SCB  50  15  35 

OPEFB, oil palm empty fruit bunch; SCB, sugarcane bagasse.

3Characterizations3.1Chemical composition

The chemical composition of OPEFB and SCB fiber are determined by using neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF) and acid detergent lignin (ADL). Chemical composition of OPEFB and SCB fibers were anlayzed by testing laboratory at Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI), Serdang Selangor, Malaysia.

3.2Tensile test

The tensile test was carried out accordance with ASTM C209 using a universal testing machine model INSTRON 3365 Dual Column with a crosshead speed 51 mm/min. Six specimen with dimension of 254 mm × 51 mm × 10 mm were tested for every series of composites and average value is recorded.

3.3Scanning electron microscope (SEM)

The morphology of the fracture surface of composites is analysed using COXEM Dual-30, Taiwan, scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The samples are coated by gold sputtering before the SEM analysis is performed. The sample is mounted on aluminium holders using double-sided prior to analysis.

3.4Water absorption test

Water absorption test were conducted according to ASTM D1037, which investigate the increase of material weight after immersed in water. The composite samples with size 152 mm × 152 mm × 10 mm as shown in Fig. 1 was measured at 2 plus 22 h submersion period method. The weight of specimen was measured before immersion in distilled water. After 2 h of submersion, the specimen was suspended to drain for 10 min and the specimen immediately weighed. The specimen was submerged for an additional period of 22 h. The composites were dried after the 24 h water soaking period in an oven at 103 °C until constant weights were reached and then weighed. Three specimens of each composites were tested in a conditioning room with control temperature 23 °C and 65% RH. Water absorption was calculated as in Eq. 1 and the results averaged: where,

Wo is the weight of specimens after immersed in distilled water and Wd is the weight of specimens before immersed in distilled water.

Fig. 1.

Composites specimen for water absorption and thickness swelling analysis.

3.5Thickness swelling test

Three specimens of composites with dimension 152 mm × 152 mm × 10 mm were prepared. The test was conducted according to ASTM D1037, which to investigate increasing thickness of specimen after immersed in water at 2 plus 22 h. The dimension of specimens was measured before and after submerged in water by using Mitutoyo, 505 Vernier callipers. The thickness swelling [26] was calculated according to the equation below;


To is the thickness of specimens after immersed in distilled water and Td is the thickness of specimens before immersed in distilled water.


The density of the samples was calculated by using following formula.


m is mass of composites board in unit g and v is volume of composites board in unit cm3.

3.7Void content

Void content of composites was carried out by ASTM D 2734-94 method. The void content was determined from the theoretical and experimental density of the composites through Eq. 4.

Wf is the fibre weight fraction, Wm the matrix weight fraction, ρf the fibre density, and ρm is the matrix density.

4Results and discussion4.1Chemical composition

In general, natural component of lignocellulosic fibers consists of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, ash and extractive. The structural parameter of chemical composition of lignocellulosic material was influenced by factors such as fiber species, plant maturity, method of extraction process, growth region and condition [27,28].

Table 3 shows the chemical compositions of short fiber of OPEFB and SCB fiber. Oil palm empty fruit bunch fiber constitute as sustainable materials apply in construction industry which have high natural cellulose fibrils that have proven ability to reach high specific strength, stiffness in polymer matrix, stability and resulted satisfactory green composites product [8,29].

Table 3.

Chemical composition of OPEFB and SCB fiber.

Fiber type  Cellulose  Hemicellulose  Lignin  Ash and extractives 
Oil palm empty fruit bunch  49.44  23.19  12.56  14.81 
Sugarcane bagasse  35.46  31.25  23.70  9.59 

Sugarcane bagasse seen consist of high lignin compared to OPEFB fiber. Previous study found that the presence of lignin in the fibers affected the structure, properties and morphology and it varies depending on the harvesting mechanism used [28]. Sugarcane bagasse lignin has a higher structure of H-type lignin, p-hydroxyphenyl, and hence a lower methoxy content than softwood and hardwood lignins [30] and acts as binder between individual cells and fibrils forming on the cell wall [31]. The presence of cellulose and hemicellulose in sugarcane bagasse fiber improved tensile strength, modulus and interfacial bonding on building composites [32].

4.2Tensile properties

The tensile strength properties of pure OPEFB, SCB, 3OPEFB:7SCB, 5OPEFB:5SCB and 7OPEFB:3SCB hybrid composites were evaluated. As illustrated in Fig. 2, 7OPEFB:3SCB hybrid composites showed maximum tensile strength (5.563 MPa) nearly followed by 3OPEFB:7SCB and 5OPEFB:5SCB hybrid composites, 5.338 and 5.228 MPa, respectively. The combination between OPEFB and SCB fiber seen leads improvement in hybrid composites tensile strength when both fibers indicates better distribution with the phenolic resin. Besides that, the increase strength and yield of composites was because of presence of fibers and the uniform fiber spreading on the composites [33,34]. However, in comparison with hybrid composite, the tensile strength of pure OPEFB composites are slightly decreased to 4.95 MPa due to poor interfacial bonding. The less compact structure of OPEFB fibre give influenced to the strength. Moreover, the OPEFB fiber shows less adhesion between the hydrophilic filler in fiber and the hydrophobic matrix polymer obstructs stress propagation, and causes the tensile strength to decrease as the filler loading increases [35].

Fig. 2.

Tensile properties of untreated OPEFB and SCB composites.


The strength of pure SCB fiber composites were evaluated and obtained lowest tensile strength (4.51 MPa). This result might due to effected from low dense of SCB single fiber properties respectively. In this study we found that the tensile strength of sugarcane bagasse are decreased with decreasing of density composite and additional bagasse content [36].

In contrast, the increasing trend of tensile modulus of pure composites and hybrid composites was seen in Fig. 2. The highest tensile modulus was obtained of hybrid composites board with ratio 7OPEFB:3SCB (661.29 MPa). Several aspect such of stiffness of fiber, distribution of fiber with matrix and particle size may influenced to the modulus of the composites [37,38]. On the other hand, Young’s modulus related to reflects the capability of both fiber and matrix materials to perform the elastic deformation in the case of small strains without interface fracture of composites [38].

4.3Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)

The SEM micrographs taken at 100× magnification was used to investigate the morphology and the possible interfacial adhesion between the matric and the fibres in the composites. The fracture surface and interfacial adhesion of the composites with different ratio of fiber (OPEFB, SCB, 3OPEFB:7SCB, 5OPEFB:5SCB and 7OPEFB:3SCB) are investigated in this study and demonstrated in Fig. 3. Fig. 3(a) reveals that the surface of pure OPEFB composites fiber content more void and holes due to weak fiber dispersion between phenolic and OPEFB fiber. This phenomenon effected to the density of composite where the higher void content performs low density. From the images also seen OPEFB fiber surface are rough and more porous area perform interfacial gap. The phenolic resin have difficulty to covered and absorbed to the fiber due to silica bodies and impurities still attach on the surface. Previous study also shown the same result where the structure of OPEFB fiber with impurities and smooth soft outer surface layer cell of the fibers prevented the epoxy being absorbed into the fibers and poor surface adhesion [34]. Thus, the studies of treatment fiber are needed in order to improve the performance of matrix and fiber interfacial bonding for better performance.

Fig. 3.

SEM of tensile testing of untreated (a) OPEFB, (b) SCB, (c) 3OPEFB:7SCB, (d) 5OPEFB:5SCB and (e) 7OPEFB:3SCB.


Fig. 3(b) shows SCB fiber pull out and breakage from the matrix when load is applied on the pure SCB composites. Compact structure of SCB fiber perform less holes on pure SCB composites and showed a better interaction between fiber/matric compared to pure OPEFB composites. Fig. 3(c) shows surface fracture of 3OPEFB:7SCB hybrid composites. The fracture structure area shows OPEFB and SCB fiber pulled out. This phenomenon contributes to poor mechanical properties of tensile strength and modulus [39]. Besides, the addition high ratio of SCB fiber resulted composites to become more brittles due to less strength of bagasse properties on tensile.

SEM images in Fig. 3(d) and (e) reveal improvement in composites where less hole and void seen on cross-section images. It should be note that the addition of SCB fiber into OPEFB composites reduce fiber pullout on the composites surface in comparison with pure composites. Besides that, for both pure OPEFB and SCB fiber used in this work presents the fibers seen are easily detached from the phenolic resin and damage. Thus, after investigating SEM images, it is rational to study the treatment of fiber, which are needed for future development building composites in order to perform smooth surface, good bonding between fiber/matrix interface and also homogenous mixtures of composites [39,40].

4.4Density and void content

Density and void content of hybrid and pure composites tabulated in Table 4. It is clear from Table 4 that OPEFB composite exhibit a higher number of voids, (10.95%) compared to pure SCB fiber composites (6.45%). Based on the experimental observation, pure OPEFB fiber composites have more porosity and less compatible to the phenolic resin. Others factor due to OPEFB single fiber difficult to hold and absorbed sufficiently with the phenolic on fiber surface. This might due to oil palm fiber surface attached with the impurity’s substance. This finding are similar with Jawaid et al. [41], which incompatibility between the matrix and oil palm fiber leads high formation of void. In between hybrid composites, 7OPEFB:3SCB composites show higher void content and density compared to 5OPEFB:5SCB and 3OPEFB:7SCB respectively. The amount of oil palm fiber was influenced the void content and porosity of composites. Furthermore, we found that pure SCB fiber composites have a lowest density 0.521 g/cm3 as well as fewer void present on in composites. This due to the lighter and denser characteristic structure of sugarcane bagasse fiber perform brittle composite [42] compare to oil palm fiber.

Table 4.

Density and void content of pure and hybrid composites.

Composites  Density (g/cm3Void content (%) 
Pure OPEFB  0.531  10.95 
Pure SCB  0.521  6.45 
3OPEFB/7SCB  0.525  6.89 
5OPEFB/5SCB  0.535  7.76 
7OPEFB/3SCB  0.545  8.20 
4.5Water absorption

Water absorption is the important aspect considering the usage of the natural fiber polymer composite material in various industry applications with different place conditions. Several factors affected water absorption percentages such as fiber/matrix bonding surface covered, void, porosity of composites and structural of fiber interfacial bonding.

Fig. 4 shows the percentage of water absorption of hybrid and pure composites for 2 h and 22 h. From the graph, it is quite obvious show that pure OPEFB fibre composites absorb high on water, content 22.29% after 24 h time elapsed. Pure OPEFB composites show the structure of OPEFB single fiber poor interfacial adhesion between fibre and polymer matrix allowed the huge amount of water molecules diffuse to the composite. According to Fatra et al. [43] hydrophilicity of the natural fiber are the main factor affect to their water absorption and mechanical failure during an application. Particularly, most of natural fibres contain hydroxyl and other oxygen-containing groups on the cell wall plant that attract water through hydrogen bonding. In comparison, the pure SCB fiber composites showed lower water absorption due to less porosity on the surface of composite. Thus, indirectly increase to improve the interface adhesion between fiber and polymeric matric.

Fig. 4.

Water absorption against immersion time of composites.


Hybrid composite of 3OPEFB:7SCB show lowest result on water absorption (15.40%) when the bagasse fiber added up to 70 wt% in ratio followed by 5OPEFB:5SCB. It seems that the compactible characteristic of sugarcane bagasse fiber is improve fiber capillary mechanism to transport the gaps and flaws in the interface between fiber and polymer matrix due to wettability process. It is also identified that additional sugarcane bagasse with compact structure help to reduce void and porosity of the surface area exposed on composites. Previous study also found a high water absorption is influenced by the high gap of fibre surface protection and high exposed surface area [44].

4.6Thickness swelling

Fig. 5 showed the thickness swelling of pure and hybrid composites specimen increasing with the time for 2 h and 24 h water immersion. The similar pattern with water absorption was found for the thickness swelling. It can be seen that hybrid composite of 3OPEFB:7SCB composite was more stable to swelling tendency which resulted low percent of swelling, after 24 h. This is might be due to the effect of interfacial adhesion between fiber and hydrophobic polymer matrix same as water absorption. Generally, thickness swelling is closely related to the dimensional stability of the fiber composites which influence by the exposure of temperature and any humidity changes. On the other hand, the micro-cracks at interfacial region caused by natural fibre swelling are able to promote the diffusion of the water via the cracks [45]. Thus, this could be another reason for untreated composite demonstrating higher swelling and moisture content after water immersion.

Fig. 5.

Thickness swelling again immersion time of composites.


We concluded from this work that hybrid composites (7OPEFB: 3SCB) show better performance as compared to others composites. It could be also be concluded that OPEFB fiber based composites display good mechanical strength due to higher cellulosic content, while SCB fiber help to reduce the water content and void in fiber composites. The non-wetting of fibers effect fiber/phenolic interfacial bonding, and void contents between fiber capillary also affected the properties of composites. Thus, study on treatment of fiber such as chemical and alkaline are require for future prospective in order to improve the performance of hybrid composites.

Conflicts of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


The authors are grateful for the financial support from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia through Putra Berimpak grant no. 9668300.

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