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Development and Characterization of Biocomposite Beams and Panels for Load-Bearing Components

Principal Investigators: Rigoberto Burgueño, Ph.D., Amar Mohanty, Packaging, Ph.D., Manju Misra, Ph.D.
Research Assistants: Mario J. Quagliata, and Geeta Mehta
Funding Agency: Michigan State University’s Composite Materials and Structures Center
Period:September 2002 – August 2003

Research Objective

Increased environmental awareness and interest in long-term sustainability of material resources has motivated considerable advancements in composite materials made from natural fibers and resins. However, despite the developments on the technology of biocomposites materials, their lower stiffness and strength properties has limited their applications to non-load-bearing components. The objective of this research was to investigate the feasibility of using biocomposite materials for primary load-bearing components in civil structures by utilizing high-performance structural forms. The research work focuses on the investigation of this concept through the development, manufacturing, and characterization, both experimental and analytical, of laboratory-scale cellular beams and plates. These studies were used to analytically investigate the feasibility of using biocomposite materials for full-size structural components for civil structures, and assess the future research need for the development of load-bearing biocomposite structures.

Figure 1. Biocomposite Material Samples

Figure 2. Biocomposite Cellular Plate

Research Approach

Biocomposite material systems were tested experimentally to evaluate the following material properties: (1) tensile modulus, (2) tensile strength, (3) tensile elongation at break, (4) impact strength, (5) coefficient of thermal expansion, and (6) moisture absorption. Bending tests were performed on biocomposite cellular beams and plates to characterize their flexural response. The cellular beams were tested in four-point bending with a total span of 457 mm and a shear span of 178 mm, while the cellular beams were tested in three-point bending with a total span of 267 mm. Hierarchical cellular architectures and hybrid material systems with integral fabric face sheets were also investigated for improved flexural performance.

Figure 3. Cellular Beam in Four-Point Bending

Figure 4. Cellular Plate in Three-Point Bending

Research Results

Results from this research has shown that cellular biocomposite beams and plates not only have the potential to serve as primary load bearing components, but that they can compete with conventional structural materials. In civil construction, biocomposite structural components can be used as flooring systems and pre-fabricated components in residential and commercial construction, deck systems in highway bridges, and complete superstructures for small pedestrian bridges. This research has also shown that vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) is a viable method for automated manufacturing of biocomposite cellular structures.

Research Impact

Further research, development, and collaboration between researchers and industry are needed in order for biocomposite structural components to become a reality in load-bearing applications. However, the availably of low cost structural components based on renewable resources will be a great asset for current and future structural applications.


  • Quagliata, M.J., "Development and Characterization of Biocomposite Cellular Beams and Plates for Load-Bearing Components", M.S. Thesis, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, 2003.
  • Burgueño, R., Quagliata, M.J., Mohanty, A.K., Misra, M., and Mehta, G., "Load-Bearing Natural Fiber Composite Cellular Beams and Panels", Composites – Part A, submitted September 2003.
  • Burgueño, R., Quagliata, M.J., Mohanty, A.K., Misra, M., and Mehta, G., "Hybrid Biofiber-Based Composites for Structural Cellular Plates", Composites – Part A, submitted September 2003.
  • Burgueño, R., Quagliata, M.J., Mohanty, A.K., Misra, M., and Mehta, G., "Hierarchical Cellular Designs for Load-Bearing Biocomposite Beams and Panels", Composites Structures, submitted September 2003.

Phone: (517) 355-5107 Fax: (517) 432-1827 E-mail: cee@egr.msu.edu
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
3546 Engineering Building Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1226