Cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) are well-suited to the preparation of biocomposite films and packaging material due to its abundance, renewability, biodegradability, and favorable film-forming capacity. In this study, different CNC and corn zein (CZ) composite films were prepared by adding CZ to the CNC suspension prior to drying, in order to change internal structure of resulting films. Films were developed to examine their performance as an alternative water vapor and oxygen-barrier for flexible packaging industry. Water vapor permeability (WVP) and oxygen transmission rate (OTR) of the biocomposite films decreased significantly in a specific ratio between CNC and CZ combined with 1,2,3,4-butane tetracarboxylic acid (BTCA), a nontoxic cross linker. In addition to the improved barrier properties, the incorporation of CZ benefitted the flexibility and thermal stability of the CNC/CZ composite films. The toughness increased by 358%, and Young’s modulus decreased by 32% compared with the pristine CNC film. The maximum degradation temperature increased by 26 °C, compared with that of CNC film. These results can be attributed to the incorporation of a hydrophobic protein into the matrix creating hydrophobic interactions among the biocomposite components. SEM and AFM analysis indicated that CZ could significantly affect the CNC arrangement, and the film surface topography, due to the mechanical bundling and physical adsorption effect of CZ to CNC. The presented results indicate that CNC/CZ biocomposite films may find applications in packaging, and in multi-functionalization materials.
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