Abaca Fiber: Properties, Manufacturing Process and Uses | Manila Hemp Fiber

Last Updated on 11/06/2021

Abaca Fiber:
Abacá is a vegetable leaf fiber. The abaca fiber is extracted from the leaf stalks of the plant. Abaca is also known as Manila hemp. Its appearance is similar to the banana plant, but it is completely different in its properties and uses. It is a Musasea family plant native to Asia and planted in humid areas including in the Philippines and East of Indonesia. It is also commercially grown in Ecuador, and Costa Rica. Abaca fibers are extensively used to produce ropes, woven fabrics, tea bags, filter paper and banknotes. It is also called biodegradable and sustainable fiber. Abaca is considered the strongest of natural fibers, being three times stronger than sisal fiber, and is far more resistant to saltwater decomposition than most of the vegetable fibers. Compared to synthetic fibers like rayon and nylon, abaca fiber possesses higher tensile strength and lower elongation in both wet and dry states.

abaca plant
Fig: Abaca plant

Leaf fibers have limited commercial value, mainly because they are coarser than the bast fibers and the uses to which they can be put are limited. The fibers are usually obtained from the leaves by mechanically scraping away the non-fibrous material. They are then washed and dried, sometimes in the sun where a degree of bleaching also takes place. The Philippines is the world’s largest source and supplier of abaca fiber for cordage and pulp for specialist paper. It supplies 85% of the needed abaca fiber around the globe.

Chemical Composition of Abaca Fiber:

ParameterPercentage (%)
Cellulose76.6%
Hemicellulose14.6%
Lignin8.4%
Pectin0.3%
Wax and fat0.1%

Properties of Abaca Fiber:
The characterization result of abaca fiber showed the abaca fiber has the potential to develop as alternative material based on chemical, physical and thermal properties. Abaca is one of natural fiber that has high mechanical properties because supported by the architecture of its cell walls. The mechanical properties of abaca fiber is very influenced by the cell walls structure, cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin composition. Abaca fiber was measured using 5 varian of thickness for tensile strength, Young’s modulus and elongation at break.

Abaca fibers
Fig: Abaca fiber

Mechanical properties of abaca fiber

Fiber thicknessTensile Strength (MPa)Strain (mm/mm)Young’s modulus (MPa)
172.5940.01027117.059
5148.93360.01997484.102
10188.65380.03016288.462
15262.0710.03986584.602
20308.70.04846186.373

Manufacturing Process of Abaca Fiber:
Abaca fibers are processed is a similar manner to sisal and other hard fibers, although the fibers do show a little more elasticity. The fiber that is obtained from extraction process has a high percentage of moisture which makes it necessary to dry it at the farm in cane structures specially designed for this purpose. The drying period can last from a couple of hours to days, depending on weather conditions. At the same time that this activity is conducted, a preliminary classification is conducted depending on the color that the fiber presents. After drying, the fiber is piled in dry places that can be covered and that have adequate ventilation, because even after drying the fiber holds a certain percentage of moisture and without ventilation, the fiber can change color and lose quality.

Identification of Abaca:
Although potentially difficult to distinguish from sisal on a slide mount, abaca (Musa textilis) has many characteristics that help to identify it. Its ultimate have a uniform diameter and a waxy appearance; often it is darker than sisal; also they are polygonal in cross-section and vary in size. Abaca may present spiral elements but often will have stegmata which are visible as small crown-like structures. Abaca, like sisal, has a counter-clockwise twist. Ropes, cordage and floor mats are typical sources of abaca.

Uses / Applications of Abaca Fiber:
Abaca is a versatile plant with several uses. Because its fibers are particularly resistant to saltwater, abaca has been commonly used for fishing nets. Abaca fiber is used mainly in the production of tea bags and meat casings; it is also a substitute for bark, which was once a primary source of cloth. In addition, it is considered an excellent raw material in the processing of security and high quality paper, diapers, napkins, machinery filters, medical textiles (aprons, caps, gloves), and electrical conduction cables, as well as some 200 other different finished products.

products of abaca fiber
Fig: Products of abaca fiber

Fibers are removed from the abaca’s stalk to make ropes, clothing, paper-based materials, filter cloths, tea and coffee bags, disposable fabrics, reinforcement fibers for plaster, lighter weight woven fabrics mostly of an artisanal type, and other handicrafts. The cordage market is decreasing owing to competition from synthetic fibers. These plants thrive well in shaded and cool habitats and resemble the banana plant in many respects.

The following table shows details uses of abaca fiber:

Uses

Cordage products – ropes, twines, marine cordage, binders, cord
Pulp and paper manufactures – tea bags, filter paper, mimeograph stencil, base tissue, sausage skin, base paper, cigarette paper, currency paper, chart file folders, envelopes, time cards, book binders and parchment paper, microglass air filters media, x-ray negative, optical lens wiper, vacuum filter, oil filter.

Nonwovensmedical face masks and gowns, diapers, hospital linens, bed sheets

Handmade paper – paper sheets, stationeries, all-purpose cards, lamp shades, balls, dividers, placemats, bags, photo frames and albums, flowers, table cloth

Fibercrafts – handbags, hammocks, placemats, rugs, carpets, purses and wallets, fishnets, door mats, table clock
Handwoven fabrics – sinamay, pinukpok, tinalak, dagmay, Sacks, hotpads, hemp, coasters, Baskets, Wallpaper
Furniture
Others – wire insulator and cable, automobile, automobile components/composites

Potential Uses of Abaca

Fiberboards – roofing tiles, floor tiles, hollow blocks, boards, reinforcing fiber concrete and asphalt
Fuels – musafel
Miscellaneous applications – wigs, grass skirts

Future Challenges:
The abaca industry is presently facing several concerns especially in crop production, and in the processing and marketing of the fiber. These concerns are mainly affected by different factors such as low fertility of the soil, soil degradation, improper management, and disease caused by bunchy top virus.

References:

  1. Bast and other plant fibers, Edited by Robert R Franck
  2. Handbook of textile fibers by J. Gordon Cook
  3. Identification of textile fibers Edited by Max M. Houck
  4. The Chemistry of Textile Fibers, 2nd Edition by Robert R. Mather, Roger H. Wardman
  5. Biomass and Bioenergy: Applications  By Khalid Rehman Hakeem, Mohammad Jawaid and Umer Rashid
  6. http://www.pertanika2.upm.edu.my/Pertanika%20PAPERS/JST%20Vol.%2019%20%282%29%20Jul.%202011/13.pdf
  7. http://www.euronatur.org/fileadmin/docs/projekte/fiber.PDF
  8. http://fida.da.gov.ph/Templates/abaca_grades_and_uses.htm

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