Today, plant fibers are considered as an important new renewable resource that can compete with some synthetic fibers, such as glass, in fiber-reinforced composites. In previous works, it was noted that the pectin-enriched middle lamella (ML) is a weak point in the fiber bundles for plant fiber-reinforced composites. ML is strongly bonded to the primary walls of the cells to form a complex layer called the compound middle lamella (CML). In a composite, cracks preferentially propagate along and through this layer when a mechanical loading is applied. In this work, middle lamellae of several plant fibers of different origin (flax, hemp, jute, kenaf, nettle, and date palm leaf sheath), among the most used for composite reinforcement, are investigated by atomic force microscopy (AFM). The peak-force quantitative nanomechanical property mapping (PF-QNM) mode is used in order to estimate the indentation modulus of this layer. AFM PF-QNM confirmed its potential and suitability to mechanically characterize and compare the stiffness of small areas at the micro and nanoscale level, such as plant cell walls and middle lamellae. Our results suggest that the mean indentation modulus of ML is in the range from 6 GPa (date palm leaf sheath) to 16 GPa (hemp), depending on the plant considered. Moreover, local cell-wall layer architectures were finely evidenced and described.
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