Atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to study the nanoscale surface chemistry and morphological changes caused by chemical treatment of sisal fibers. Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) micrographs indicated that sisal in natura (bundle of fibers) is formed by fibers with diameters of approximately 10 m. AFM images showed that these fibers consist of microfibrils with diameters varying from 250 to 600 nm, which are made up of nanofibrils of ca. 20 nm in diameter. The adhesion force (pull-off force) between the AFM tip and the fibers surface increased after benzylation, pointing to a decrease in the polar groups on the sisal fiber. The adhesion map measured over a scan range of 3 m was heterogeneous in samples treated with 40% NaOH and the low adhesion sites disappeared after benzylation. Using an established mathematical model, it was possible to evaluate the increase in adhesion work and consequently in the interaction between the AFM tip and sisal fibers. These results indicated that AFM can detect heterogeneity in the wettability of sisal fibers with nanometer resolution and can be applied in the study of fiber-matrix adhesion in polymer composites.
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