Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Polymers and Coatings


Chemistry & Biochemistry


College of Science and Mathematics


Shanju Zhang

Advisor Department

Chemistry & Biochemistry

Advisor College

College of Science and Mathematics


Plastics are a class of materials known for their cost and property advantages, increasing significantly in their usage worldwide. Unfortunately, these benefits come with an increasingly concerning environmental impact. A combination of inadequate disposal options and combinations of materials have led to environmental disasters that will impact generations. One of the worst areas for plastic waste is food packaging. Plastic as a material generally excels at durability and longevity, but as food packaging, it outlives its intended purpose by several orders of magnitude. This leads to plastic food packaging materials sitting in landfill or leading to the environment for hundreds of years. Because of this, there is a strong motivation to develop food packaging materials that are biodegradable, yet still maintain the properties that make plastic better than other classes of materials. Food packaging has many forms, but in general, the most important aspects are cost, mechanical, and oxygen and water barrier properties. To achieve an end-product that excels in these aspects, combinations of materials called composites may be developed. Nanocomposites are a subcategory of composites composed of a matrix material and nanomaterials, separate phases that interact with one another in a number of ways. This research is focused on increasing the mechanical and barrier properties of polyvinyl alcohol, the most commercially-viable biodegradable polymer. The nanomaterials used were graphene oxide (GO) and cellulose nanofibers (CNF) for mechanical and barrier reinforcement. Five sample compositions were produced: a control PVA, CNF, 1 wt% GO, 5 wt% GO, and 10 wt% GO, which were drawn down on uncoated paper and cast by themselves. Testing of these nanocomposites included oxygen transmission, mechanical, and thermal property analysis, and various solvent-interaction testing including absorption of water and oil, Cobb testing, and water vapor permeation. With the addition of CNF and GO to PVA, there was an observed increase in barrier properties through a reduction of hydrophilicity and water absorption, and oxygen permeability.