In many tropical countries coconut (coir) fiber production is a major source of income for rural communities. The Caribbean has an abundance of coconuts but research into utilizing its by-products is limited. Environmentally friendly coir fibers are natural polymers generally discarded as waste material in this region. Research has shown that coir fiber from other parts of the world has successfully been recycled. This paper therefore investigates the mechanical properties of Caribbean coir fiber for potential applications in civil engineering.
Approximately four hundred fibers were randomly taken from a coir fiber stack and subjected to retting in both distilled and saline water media. The mechanical properties of both the retted and unretted coir fibers were evaluated at weekly increments for a period of 3 months. Tensile strength test, x-ray diffraction analysis and scanning electron micrographs were used to assess trends and relationships between fiber gauge lengths, diameter, tensile strength and Young’s modulus. Diameters ranged between 0.11 mm-0.46 mm, while fiber samples were no longer than 250 mm in length. The tensile strength and strain at break decreased as the gauge length increased for both unretted and retted fibers. The opposite occurred for the relationship between the gauge length and Young’s modulus. Additionally, the tensile strength and modulus decreased as the fiber diameter increased. Neither distilled nor saline water improved the coir fiber’s crystalline index. Scanning electron micrographs qualitatively assessed fiber surfaces and captured necking and microfibril degradation at the fractured ends.
The analysis revealed that the tensile strength, modulus, strain at break and crystallinity properties of the Caribbean coir fibers were comparable to commercially available coir fiber which are currently being used in many building applications.