With growing environmental awareness, natural fibers have recently received significant interest as reinforcement in polymer composites. Among natural fibers, silk can potentially be a natural alternative to glass fibers, as it possesses comparable specific mechanical properties. In order to investigate the processability and properties of silk reinforced composites, vacuum assisted resin transfer molding (VARTM) was used to manufacture composite laminates reinforced with woven silk preforms. Specific mechanical properties of silk/epoxy laminates were found to be anisotropic and comparable to those of glass/epoxy. Silk composites even exhibited a 23% improvement of specific flexural strength along the principal weave direction over the glass/epoxy laminate. Applying 300 kPa external pressure after resin infusion was found to improve the silk/epoxy interface, leading to a discernible increase in breaking energy and interlaminar shear strength. Moreover, the effect of fabric moisture on the laminate properties was investigated. Unlike glass mats, silk fabric was found to be prone to moisture absorption from the environment. Moisture presence in silk fabric prior to laminate fabrication yielded slower fill times and reduced mechanical properties. On average, 10% fabric moisture induced a 25% and 20% reduction in specific flexural strength and modulus, respectively.
Keywords: epoxy; natural fiber composites; silk fibers.