Structure of Starch&ndash;Sepiolite Bio-Nanocomposites: Effect of Processing and Matrix&ndash;Filler Interactions
Sepiolite clay is a natural filler particularly suitable to be used with polysaccharide matrices (e.g., in starch-based bio-nanocomposites), increasing their attractiveness for a wide range of applications, such as packaging. Herein, the effect of the processing (i.e., starch gelatinization, addition of glycerol as plasticizer, casting to obtain films) and of the sepiolite filler amount on the microstructure of starch-based nanocomposites was investigated by SS-NMR (solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance), XRD (X-ray diffraction) and FTIR (Fourier-transform infrared) spectroscopy. Morphology, transparency and thermal stability were then assessed by SEM (scanning electron microscope), TGA (thermogravimetric analysis) and UV&ndash;visible spectroscopy. It was demonstrated that the processing method allowed to disrupt the rigid lattice structure of semicrystalline starch and thus obtain amorphous flexible films, with high transparency and good thermal resistance. Moreover, the microstructure of the bio-nanocomposites was found to intrinsically depend on complex interactions among sepiolite, glycerol and starch chains, which are also supposed to affect the final properties of the starch&ndash;sepiolite composite materials.