Microcrystalline cellulose-filled polypropylene (PP) composites and cellulose nanofiber-filled composites were prepared by melt blending. The compounded material was used to evaluate dispersion of cellulose fillers in the polypropylene matrix. Thermogravimetric analysis (TG) and mechanical testing were conducted on composites blended multiple times and the results were compared with single batch melt blended composites. The residual mass, tensile strength, and coefficient of variance values were used to evaluate dispersion of the microcrystalline cellulose fillers in the PP matrix. The potential of using TG to evaluate cellulose nanofiber-filled thermoplastic polymers was also investigated and it was found that the value and variability of residual mass after TG measurements can be a criterion for describing filler dispersion. A probabilistic approach is presented to evaluate the residual mass and tensile strength distribution, and the correlation between those two properties. Both the multiple melt blending and single batch composites manufactured with increased blending times showed improved filler dispersion in terms of variation and reliability of mechanical properties. The relationship between cellulose nanofiber loading and residual mass was in good agreement with the rule of mixtures. In this article, the authors propose to use a novel method for dispersion evaluation of natural fillers in a polymer matrix using TG residual mass analysis. This method can be used along with other techniques such as scanning electron microscope (SEM), transmission electron microscope (TEM), and X-ray diffraction (XRD) for filler dispersion evaluation in thermoplastic composites.
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