How SEM revealed a solution to enhance hemp fibers for better properties

By Karl Kersten - Jul 26, 2017

Industrial hemp is one of the fastest growing plants and was one of the first plants used for the production of fibers about 10,000 years ago. Hemp fiber has been used extensively throughout history, with production climaxing soon after it was introduced to the New World. Read this blog to discover how hemp fibers can be used even more extensively because of better fiber properties, and how SEM helped reveal the solution that realizes these improvements. 

Many items, ranging from rope and fabrics to industrial materials, were made from the fiber. Hemp was often used to make sail canvas, and the word canvas actually derives from cannabis. Today, there is modest hemp fabric industry. Hemp fibers can be used in clothing as pure hemp has a texture similar to linen. But as a natural fiber, hemp also offers a wide variety of benefits, including high hygroscopicity, gas permeability and an additional resistance to bacteria and mold.

Hemp fiber can be blended with cotton, silk, and wool, and can also be spun as mono fibers. However, the plant contains waxes, lignins and further chemical impurities that are removed from the surface during a procedure called degumming. Degumming has significant effects on spinning quality, fabric style and comfort. Because the water resistance of hemp is very high, the fiber is difficult to treat. Chemical degumming is a rather strong process that consumes a lot of energy and water, amongst other issues.

Fang et al. (BioRes 12(1), 1566-1578, 2017) showed that the use of alkaline pectinase pretreatment of hemp fibers penetrates the interior of the fiber and decomposes the pectin. This treatment makes the fibers soft and fluffy and creates additional benefits for a further degumming process.

How the morphology of hemp fiber surfaces was analysed

The morphology of the treated and crude hemp fiber surfaces was analyzed using the Phenom Pro. While the crude hemp fibers showed an irregular surface full of impurities such as pectins and waxes, the treated fibers showed a clear fiber structure. Using a Phenom Pro, Fang et al. were able to conclude that the fibers were not only cleaner and smoother, but also that the fibers bundles were more detached and different from the crude hemp fibers. They could therefore prove that the biochemical combined degumming method that they tested is an appropriate economic and environmentally-friendly solution that easily can be industrialized.

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Figure 1: Fiber analysis with a Phenom and Fibermetric software 

If you would like to learn more about the imaging power of the Phenom Pro and how it is suiting a multitude of applications, you can download the Phenom Pro specification sheet here:

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About the author

Karl Kersten is head of the Application team at Thermo Fisher Scientific, the world leader in serving science. He is passionate about the Thermo Fisher Scientific product and likes converting customer requirements into product or feature specifications so customers can achieve their goals.

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