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Composites: Part A 39 (2008) 16941699

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Composites: Part A
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/compositesa

Improved woodplastic composites through better processing


Shu-Kai Yeh, Rakesh K. Gupta *
Department of Chemical Engineering, West Virginia University, P.O. Box 6102, Morgantown, WV 26506, USA

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: Woodplastic composites (WPCs) undergo cyclic dimensional changes due to periodic absorption and
Received 29 December 2007 desorption of moisture, and the resulting loss of mechanical integrity can be ameliorated using a coupling
Received in revised form 13 July 2008 agent. Another solution is better processing. Here, we examine injection-molded, polypropylene (PP)-
Accepted 14 July 2008
based woodplastic composites and investigate why the rate of moisture absorption can be reduced
by changing extruder operating conditions. At a given wood content, the mechanical properties were
found to be similar, but the use of high screw rotation speeds, whether in the co-rotation or counter-rota-
Keywords:
tion modes, and long residence times gave lower rates of moisture absorption even in the absence of a
A. Woodplastic composites (WPCs)
B. Environmental degradation
coupling agent.
D. Electron microscopy 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
E. Extrusion

1. Introduction The extent and manner of water absorption by WPCs can be


determined in a variety of ways. A sample may either be exposed
Lumber used for residential applications, such as decking, is to air of specied relative humidity or be immersed in water to
typically treated with chemicals like chromated copper arsenate determine both the rate of moisture absorption and the equilib-
(CCA) to prevent environmental and microbial degradation. How- rium moisture content and, thus, the diffusion coefcient [37].
ever, beginning in 2004, CCA-treated wood has been phased out Some researchers also test WPCs in weather chambers that simu-
of the building products market by the U.S. Environmental Protec- late real weathering conditions [814].
tion Agency [1]. A replacement product is woodplastic composite Although different pieces of compounding equipment can be
(WPC) made by dispersing about 50 wt% wood our into a matrix employed to make WPCs [7,15], the use of a twin screw extruder
of polypropylene, polyethylene, polystyrene, poly vinyl chloride, or is standard in the industry, and its use results in composites having
acrylonitrilebutadienestyrene. Since the wood content in the a high modulus and a low rate of water absorption. Surprisingly,
polymer matrix is high, the appearance of WPCs is similar to nat- though, not much research has been done to understand the effect
ural wood, and the preferred processing method is either prole of process variables of a twin screw extruder on the moisture
extrusion or injection molding. Again, since wood particulates absorption properties of WPCs [16,17]. These variables include
are polar (hydrophilic), water is absorbed from the atmosphere, feed rate, screw speed, barrel temperature and screw geometry.
and this results in dimensional changes and fungus growth [2]. This apparent neglect of process variables may be because the
As a consequence, the durability of WPCs can be reduced. A possi- mechanical properties of WPCs are not sensitive to these variables
ble solution to this problem is the introduction of additives like [16,17]. In this paper, the inuence of extruder process variables
polypropylene grafted with maleic anhyrdride (PP-g-MA) that have was examined by compounding 18 batches of WPCs by varying
anhydride groups which can react with the hydroxyl groups on the the process variables. The rate of water absorption was determined
surface of wood our and occupy sites where moisture might ordi- with the help of a blot and weigh method to see if the rate of
narily have resided. Note that PP-g-MA is already added to poly- water absorption of WPCs was affected by process variables chosen
propylene-based WPCs to act as a coupling agent, since it during compounding.
improves composite strength by promoting adhesion between
wood and the non-polar (hydrophobic) polypropylene. Conse-
quently, the incorporation of an optimum amount of PP-g-MA 2. Materials and experiments
can serve both purposes.
Maple wood our (Maple 8010), of 80-mesh size (about
177 lm), was provided by American Wood Fiber, while the poly-
mer used was BP Amocos polypropylene homopolymer PP1246
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 304 293 2111x2427; fax: +1 304 293 4139. (melt ow index = 20 g/10 min at 230 C and 2.16 kg, ASTM
E-mail address: Rakesh.Gupta@mail.wvu.edu (R.K. Gupta). D1238). Since wood is a biomaterial, and since the rate of water

1359-835X/$ - see front matter 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.compositesa.2008.07.013
S.-K. Yeh, R.K. Gupta / Composites: Part A 39 (2008) 16941699 1695

absorption is closely related to the quality of wood our, batch-to- according to ASTM D638, while the impact test refers to ASTM
batch differences between different bags of wood our may affect D256. The cross-sectional area of the tensile samples was
experimental results. To prevent this from happening, two 22.7 kg 13 mm  3.2 mm while the overall length of the samples was
bags of maple wood our having the same lot number were pre- 165 mm (ASTM D638, Type I). Because WPCs generally showed rel-
mixed in a box for these experiments to ensure consistency of re- atively low impact strength in the standard Izod impact test, the
sults. The PP-g-MA coupling agent used, PB3200, was from reversed notch impact test method was applied.
Chemtura; it had a molecular weight of 120,000 (g/mol) with The rate of water absorption of the WPCs was determined using
1.0 wt% maleic anhydride content. An antioxidant, Naugard B-25, a blot and weigh method. Three weighed samples were taken
was also used at the 0.1 wt% level to prevent polymer degradation from each batch to conduct this test. The typical injection-molded
during melt compounding. It is a blend of phenol and phosphite, impact test sample of 12.5 mm  64 mm  3.175 mm was put on a
and it was also provided by Chemtura. Note that PP-g-MA pellets tray of desiccants and dried in a vacuum oven at 80 C for 12 h.
were hand mixed with polypropylene pellets in a bag before being After that, each sample was immersed in a sealed container full
fed to the extruder. Also, the wood our was pre-dried in an oven of distilled water at room temperature and was periodically re-
at 100 C for 7 h to ensure that the moisture content was below moved and weighed. The results of the water absorption test were
1 wt%. plotted as percentage weight gained versus time of immersion.
WPC samples were compounded using a Leistritz Micro-27 These samples are considered to have reached the equilibrium
twin-screw extruder; half the samples were processed with co- moisture when the weight gain was less than 3 mg within a 2-
rotation screws, and the other half were processed with counter- week period.
rotation screws. The experimental matrix is listed in Table 1, while To determine if processing conditions altered the size distribu-
the designs of the co-rotation and counter-rotation screws are tion of the wood particulates in the WPCs, the impact samples
show in Figs. 1 and 2, respectively. The materials were fed into from each batch of WPCs were treated with hot xylene to remove
the extruder with K-Tron loss-in-weight powder and pellet feed- the polymer matrix. After the matrix was dissolved, the magnetic
ers. The total feeding rate was controlled at 2.4 kg/h, and all the stirrer was stopped, while the hot plate was kept on for a further
samples contained 50 wt% wood our. The barrel temperature 40 min. During this time, the wood our settled to the bottom of
was controlled at 165180 C from hopper to the die, while the the ask, and the supernatant was drained. The precipitate was
screw rotation speed was xed at either 85 or 150 rpm. As men- then diluted with fresh xylene to prevent any remaining polypro-
tioned in Table 1, some of the WPC samples that were compounded pylene from coming out of solution during ltration. The mixture
at 85 rpm were passed through the extruder twice to investigate was boiled again and hot ltered to separate wood our from the
the effect of doubling the residence time on the properties of solution. The extracted wood our was nally oven dried at 70 C
WPCs. WPC strands emerging from the die were cooled in a water for 48 h. The extracted wood our from each batch was dusted
bath and then pelletized for further processing. These details on carbon tapes and then observed using a Hitachi S-4700 FESEM
should allow for easy duplication of the results reported here. to obtain the morphology of wood our. In addition, the particle
The compounded WPC pellets were dried at 85 C for 6 h and size distribution of wood our was analyzed with a Shimadzu
then injection molded using a Battenfeld injection molding ma- SALD-3101 particle analyzer. For this instrument, the refractive in-
chine to produce standard ASTM samples. The tensile and stiffness dex was set at 1.7 and isobutyl alcohol was used as a dispersing
properties and also the impact strengths of these samples were agent to prevent particle aggregation. Before making measure-
measured using an Instron 5869 universal testing machine and a ments, the solution was mixed with a circulation pump and soni-
BLI impact tester, respectively. The tensile strength was analyzed cated with an ultrasonicator for 1 min. The tests were repeated
three times to ensure that ultrasonication did not affect the parti-
cle size distribution.
Table 1 The optical properties of the WPCs were measured using a
Composition of various polypropylene/wood our composites Macbeth Color-eye 7000 color meter. These tests were conducted
courtesy of GE Plastics (now SABIC Innovative Plastics) in Wash-
Run Screw rotation speed Pass Wood AO PP-g-MA (wt%) in
(rpm) (wt%) (wt%) wood ington, WV. The results are presented in CIELab color space (L*,
a*, b*). Here, L* means lightness and L* ranges from 0 (black) to
1 85 1 50 0.1 0
2 85 1 50 0.1 2
100 (white). An impact sample was chosen from each batch of
3 85 1 50 0.1 4 samples, and the color was measured at three different locations.
4 85 2 50 0.1 0 The average value of lightness is reported here.
5 85 2 50 0.1 2 Finally, the IR spectrum of wood our was obtained using a
6 85 2 50 0.1 4
PerkinElmer Spectrum One FT-IR and employing oven-dried IR-
7 150 1 50 0.1 0
8 150 1 50 0.1 2 grade potassium bromide as diluent. Around 1 mg of wood our
9 150 1 50 0.1 4 was mixed with KBr powder using a mortar and pestle and then
compressed into a disk. Typically, the samples were scanned about
Samples were made with both co-rotation and counter-rotation screws. 18 batches
of samples were compounded. 100 times with a resolution of 4 cm 1.

Fig. 1. Screw geometry of co-rotation screws. L:D = 40:1.

Fig. 2. Screw geometry of counter-rotation screws. L:D = 40:1.


1696 S.-K. Yeh, R.K. Gupta / Composites: Part A 39 (2008) 16941699

3. Results and discussion 14% 0% CA 85rpm

Moisture Content (wt%)


12% 0% CA 150rpm
The results of mechanical property measurements on the
10% 0% CA 85rpm E2
50 wt% wood WPCs but containing different amounts of PP-g-MA
are shown in Table 2; the numbers in parentheses are standard 8%
2% CA 85rpm
deviations. It can be seen that the tensile modulus lies between 4 2% CA 150rpm
and 5 GPa, with the counter rotating screws, perhaps, giving a 6%
2% CA 85rpm E2
slightly higher modulus under the same processing conditions 4%
4% CA 85rpm
and coupling agent content. On the other hand, the tensile strength
2% 4% CA 150rpm
appears not to depend on the processing conditions employed.
Though, as expected, tensile strength values do increase as the cou- 0% 4% CA 85rpm E2
pling agent content is increased. The reversed notch Izod impact 0 40 80 120 160 200 240 280 320
strength of WPCs also increases with the loading level of PP-g- Time [days]
MA, but counter-rotating screws give slightly lower values, and
this is consistent with the modulus measurements since stiffer Fig. 4. Moisture content as a function of time for WPCs made with counter-rotation
screws.
materials usually possess lower impact strength. In general,
though, all the samples show similar mechanical properties.
The increase in moisture content as a function of time is shown
in Fig. 3 for WPC samples made with co-rotating screws; results for are not presented for the case of 4 wt% coupling agent and 150 rpm
samples made with counter-rotating screws are presented in Fig. 4. screw speed for co-rotating screws because of experimental dif-
The rate of water absorption between the third and the 36th day of culties resulting from the high melt ow index of PP-g-MA. As
water immersion and the equilibrium moisture content obtained can be seen from Figs. 3 and 4, the rate of water absorption de-
from these gures are listed in Table 3. It should be noted that data pends on the amount of coupling agent, screw speed and material
residence time in the extruder. As expected, the rate of water
absorption decreased with an increase in PP-g-MA loading level
due to reaction between hydroxyl groups on the wood our surface
Table 2
and the maleic anhydride. Also, the chemical bonds formed be-
Mechanical properties of WPCs
tween PP-g-MA and the wood ber are expected to form a mass
PP-g-MA to Co-rotation Pass Tensile Tensile Impact transfer barrier that retards diffusion of water molecules to the
wood (wt%) (rpm) modulus strength strength (J/m)
interior of the wood our. However, as can be seen from Table 3,
(GPa) (MPa)
the presence of the coupling agent does not signicantly alter
0 85 1 4.03 (0.1) 21.86 (0.13) 83.06 (8.08)
the equilibrium moisture content for samples processed with
0 85 2 4.21 (0.16) 22.05 (0.04) 85.94 (5.9)
0 150 1 3.86 (0.11) 22.79 (0.09) 82.34 (3.63) either screw type. The likely reason for this is that wood is a porous
2 85 1 3.96 (0.19) 34.81 (0.31) 112.2 (6.74) medium, and as many as 99% of the hydroxyl groups lie on the in-
2 85 2 4.24 (0.12) 35.01 (0.21) 112.2 (5.19) side pores [18,19]. The size of these pores ranges from 40 to
2 150 1 4.05 (0.26) 35.88 (0.05) 124.77 (12.77) 40 lm [20], and there is not enough time for PP-g-MA to react with
4 85 1 4.08 (0.24) 42.3 (0.26) 166.14 (17.7)
hydroxyl groups inside these pores during compounding. In other
4 85 2 4.02 (0.11) 41.3 (0.19) 169.66 (15.37)
4 150 1 4.44 (0.33) 41.87 (0.14) 162.24 (5.46) words, PP-g-MA reacts only with the surface hydroxyl groups.
However, water molecules can access the interior hydroxyl groups
Counter
rotation during the long term exposure in the absorption test so that the
(rpm) equilibrium moisture content remains essentially unchanged.
0 85 1 4.52 (0.27) 21.61 (0.17) 71.11 (2.89) Concerning the inuence of screw rpm and residence time, re-
0 85 2 4.47 (0.19) 21.05 (0.06) 78.74 (8.3) sults presented in Figs. 3 and 4 indicate that increasing either
0 150 1 4.49 (0.1) 21.04 (0.09) 74.38 (8.53) quantity decreases the rate of water absorption by 1040% at a
2 85 1 4.49 (0.13) 36.68 (0.15) 107.52 (7.68)
xed PP-g-MA level. For co-rotation screws, in particular, WPCs
2 85 2 4.67 (0.08) 35.01 (0.27) 101.03 (8.49)
2 150 1 4.15 (0.11) 35.46 (0.09) 101.76 (3.08)
processed with the higher screw speed show a much lower rate
4 85 1 5.07 (0.17) 42.89 (0.22) 152.12 (10.12) of water absorption than other samples with the same coupling
4 85 2 4.46 (0.16) 41.34 (0.07) 161.88 (2.88) agent content, and this is true even in the absence of PP-g-MA. In-
4 150 1 4.66 (0.2) 41.68 (0.24) 139.19 (12.44) deed, WPCs compounded at 150 rpm using co-rotating screws and
2 wt% PP-g-MA possess a lower rate of water absorption than sim-
ilar samples processed at 85 rpm and containing 4 wt% PP-g-MA.
Possible reasons for this behavior are discussed later. Note that
14% in the case of counter-rotating screws, increasing residence time
0% CA 85rpm
seems to be more important than increasing screw speed.
Moisture Content (wt%)

12% 0% CA 85rpm E2
To understand if changing processing conditions lead to
10% 0% CA 150rpm changes in the structure of WPCs, the results of measuring the
8% average particle size using the Shimadzu SALD-3101 particle size
2% CA 85rpm
6%
analyzer are shown in Figs. 5a(a) and 5b(b). A clear trend can be
2% CA 85rpm E2 seen from Fig. 5a(a) which displays data for co-rotating screws: a
4%
2% CA 150rpm high screw speed (150 rpm) and a long residence time (85 rpm, 2
2% passes) reduced the size of wood our, with the particle size of
4% CA 85rpm
0% wood our processed with the longer residence time being ner
0 40 80 120 160 200 240 280 320 4% CA 85rpm E2 than for the one processed with the higher screw speed.
Time [days] Since the laser particle analyzer assumes that each particle is a
Fig. 3. Moisture content as a function of time for WPCs made with co-rotation sphere, and since wood particulates are actually cylindrical, an
screws. optical microscope was used to conrm the results from the laser
S.-K. Yeh, R.K. Gupta / Composites: Part A 39 (2008) 16941699 1697

Table 3
Rate of water absorption and equilibrium moisture of WPCs

PP-g-MA to Co-rotation Pass Rate of water Equilibrium moisture Counter Pass Rate of water Equilibrium moisture
wood (wt%) (rpm) absorption (wt%/day) content (wt%) rotation (rpm) absorption (wt%/day) content (wt%)
0 85 1 0.234 (0.001) 12.81 (0.01) 85 1 0.249 (0.003) 12.36 (0.02)
0 85 2 0.203 (0.002) 12.57 (0.06) 85 2 0.199 (0.001) 12.06 (0.02)
0 150 1 0.141 (0.0005) 11.25 (0.03) 150 1 0.22 (0.001) 11.65 (0.02)
2 85 1 0.099 (0.001) 12.02 (0.03) 85 1 0.113 (0.002) 11.74 (0.02)
2 85 2 0.090 (0.001) 11.87 (0.02) 85 2 0.085 (0.0004) 11.11 (0.03)
2 150 1 0.068 (0.001) 10.76 (0.01) 150 1 0.091 (0.001) 10.76 (0.02)
4 85 1 0.081 (0.001) 12.06 (0.03) 85 1 0.078 (0.001) 11.59 (0.02)
4 85 2 0.068 (0.0003) 11.84 (0.0002) 85 2 0.068 (0.0004) 11.19 (0.02)
4 150 1 N/A N/A 150 1 0.072 (0.001) 10.72 (0.06)

The numbers in parenthesis are standard deviation values.

a 200

160
Particle Size (um)

120 85 rpm 1pass


85rpm 2 pass
80 150rpm 1pass

40

0
0 2 4
PP-g-MA to Wood (w t%)

b 200

160
Particle Size (um)

120 85 rpm 1pass


85rpm 2 pass
80 150rpm 1pass

40

0
0 2 4
PP-g-MA to Wood (wt%)

Fig. 5. (a) Particle size of wood our extracted from WPCs processed with co-
rotation screws. (b) Particle size of wood our extracted from WPCs processed with
counter-rotation screws.

particle analyzer. A square sample of 12.7 mm  12.7 mm was


taken from an impact specimen. Samples were cut 25.4 mm away
from the injection point and ne polished using sand paper and an
aluminum oxide suspension. Typical optical micrographs of WPCs
processed under different conditions are shown in Fig. 6(a)(c). As
can be seen from these gures, the particulate sizes in WPCs pro-
cessed at 85 rpm and 1 pass appear to be coarser than those pro-
cessed at high screw speed or with a longer residence time. Also,
WPCs processed with a long residence time result in the nest par-
ticle size among the three different conditions. This is consistent
with the results provided by the laser particle analyzer. All this
says is that some of the energy added to the composite during pro-
cessing results in particulate fracture. Additionally, everything else
Fig. 6. Optical microscope pictures of WPCs processed with co-rotation screws and
being equal, the average size of wood our is smaller when the no coupling agent. Magnication is 20. (a) 85 rpm and 1 pass; (b) 150 rpm and 1
WPCs are processed with co-rotation screws, and this means that pass; and (c) 85 rpm and 2 passes.
1698 S.-K. Yeh, R.K. Gupta / Composites: Part A 39 (2008) 16941699

a 45

42
85 rpm 1pass
L*

85rpm 2 pass
150rpm 1pass
39

36
0 2 4
PP-g-MA to Wood (w t%)

b 45

42
85 rpm 1pass
L*

85rpm 2 pass
150rpm 1pass
39

36
0 2 4
PP-g-MA to Wood (w t%)

Fig. 7. (a) Lightness of WPCs processed with co-rotation screws. (b) Lightness of
WPCs processed with counter-rotation screws. Fig. 8. Wood our extracted from samples (a) with PP-g-MA, and (b) without PP-g-
MA. Samples were processed with counter-rotation screws at 150 rpm.

the co-rotation screws provide more severe agitation as compared by FT-IR [21]. We also observed the wood our by a scanning elec-
to the counter-rotating screws. This is not intended to be a general tron microscope. Wood our extracted from WPCs was lightly
statement, and it is true only for the screw designs shown in Figs. 1 dusted on a carbon tape using a needle. Typical SEM pictures of
and 2. Separately, other researchers have reported that ner wood wood our taken from WPCs made with and without PP-g-MA
our particulates tend to reduce the water absorption rate of WPCs are shown in Fig. 8(a) and (b), respectively. As can be seen from
[5]. Thus, while the results in this study are consistent with those Fig. 8(a), there are only a few aggregates in the wood our treated
available in the literature, they do not explain why ner particu- with PP-g-MA. On the other hand, wood our tends to form aggre-
lates result in a reduction in the rate of moisture absorption. gates in the absence of PP-g-MA which can be seen clearly in Fig.
The results of color measurement shown in Figs. 7a(a) and 7b(b) 8(b); this is possibly because the hydroxyl groups on the surface
indicate that samples processed with co-rotating screws are darker of wood our form hydrogen bonds and attract each other [2].
than those processed with counter-rotating screws under the same Therefore, adding PP-g-MA denitely changes the chemical nature
process conditions. This is because higher L* values mean greater of the surface of wood our.
lightness. This again indicates that the co-rotation screws used in
this work are more severe than the counter-rotating screws. Also, Table 4
passing WPCs through the extruder twice made WPCs darker than Density of WPCs made with different compounding processes
when processed with a higher screw speed. Overall, though, the PP-g-MA to Co- Pass Density (g/ Counter Pass Density (g/
differences in lightness are small, and the appearance of all the wood rotation cm3) rotation cm3)
sample batches was acceptable. (wt%) (rpm) (rpm)
Since the addition of PP-g-MA decreases the rate of water 0 85 1 1.089 (0.002) 85 1 1.083 (0.001)
absorption signicantly, it is of interest to examine the infra-red 0 85 2 1.084 (0.002) 85 2 1.086 (0.001)
spectrum of wood our with and without PP-g-MA after com- 0 150 1 1.064 (0.002) 150 1 1.082 (0.001)
2 85 1 1.09 (0.001) 85 1 1.086 (0.001)
pounding. Before carrying out the measurements, wood our ex-
2 85 2 1.09 (0.002) 85 2 1.088 (0.001)
tracted from WPCs was pre-dried in an oven at 80 C to ensure 2 150 1 1.065 (0.001) 150 1 1.08 (0.001)
that the moisture content was less than 1 wt%. Unfortunately, no 4 85 1 1.088 (0.003) 85 1 1.086 (0.002)
difference could be seen between the two IR spectra because wood 4 85 2 1.089 (0.002) 85 2 1.088 (0.001)
4 150 1 1.086 (0.002) 150 1 1.086 (0.002)
our itself contains ester groups. Thus, the esterication reaction
between hydroxyl groups and maleic anhydride cannot be seen The numbers in parenthesis are standard deviation values.
S.-K. Yeh, R.K. Gupta / Composites: Part A 39 (2008) 16941699 1699

Table 5
ANOVA table of WPCs processed with different processing methods and different PP-g-MA loading level

df SS MS F Critical F
A: Screw geometry 1 3.715E 07 3.715E 07 MSa/MSe 1948.092 4.2597
B: Processing methods 2 1.179E 06 5.893E 07 MSb/MSe 3090.053 3.4029
C: PP-g-MA content 1 1.224E 05 1.224E 05 MSc/MSe 64171.613 4.2597
AB 2 4.676E 07 2.338E 07 MSab/MSe 1225.963 3.4028
AC 1 8.614E 08 8.614E 08 MSac/MSe 451.729 4.2597
BC 2 1.862E 07 9.309E 08 MSbc/MSe 488.137 3.4028
ABC 2 1.502E 07 7.511E 08 MSabc/MSe 393.856 3.4028
Error 24 4.577E 09 1.907E 10

The density of WPCs was measured to see if the wood our had the West Virginia EPSCoR Challenge Grant Program and partly by
been changed in any way during compounding. The density was contract number DE-FC26-00FT40598 from the U.S. Department
determined simply by dividing the weight of a WPC sample by of Energy. During the last year of his stay, Shu-Kai Yeh received
its volume. Results are shown in Table 4. It is found that the den- an assistantship from funds available to Professor Gupta through
sity of most WPCs is around 1.081.09 g/cm3 except in the case the George and Carolyn Berry Chair.
of samples made with the co-rotating screws at the higher screw
speed of 150 rpm. Recall that these samples are the ones which References
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Acknowledgements
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Fibers, and Chemtura, respectively. This work was funded partly by