Physicochemical characteristics of Hibiscus cannabinus (kenaf) fibers from Burkina Faso were studied using X-ray diffraction (XRD), infrared spectroscopy, thermal gravimetric analysis (TGA), chemical analysis and video microscopy. Kenaf fibers (3 cm long) were used to reinforce earth blocks, and the mechanical properties of reinforced blocks, with fiber contents ranging from 0.2 to 0.8 wt%, were investigated. The fibers were mainly composed of cellulose type I (70.4 wt%), hemicelluloses (18.9 wt%) and lignin (3 wt%) and were characterized by high tensile strength (1 ± 0.25 GPa) and Young’s modulus (136 ± 25 GPa), linked to their high cellulose content. The incorporation of short fibers of kenaf reduced the propagation of cracks in the blocks, through the good adherence of fibers to the clay matrix, and therefore improved their mechanical properties. Fiber incorporation was particularly beneficial for the bending strength of earth blocks because it reinforces these blocks after the failure of soil matrix observed for unreinforced blocks. Blocks reinforced with such fibers had a ductile tensile behavior that made them better building materials for masonry structures than unreinforced blocks.
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