In the present study, property-enhanced polylactide (PLA) nanocomposites containing bacterial cellulose nanowhiskers (BCNW) were prepared by melt compounding. With the aim of improving the nanocrystals' dispersion in the final melt processed nanocomposites, these were preincorporated either into PLA nanostructured fibers by electrospinning or into an ethylene vinyl-alcohol copolymer (EVOH) by solution precipitation. An optimized dispersion of the nanofiller in the nanocomposites produced by applying these preincorporation methods, when compared to the direct melt mixing of the freeze-dried nanowhiskers with the polymeric matrix, was confirmed by morphological studies. Enhanced dispersion of BCNW was critical for enhancing the barrier and mechanical properties of the nanocomposites. Thus, for concentrations around the percolation threshold, that is, 2-3 wt % BCNW, nanocomposites produced by the electrospinning preincorporation method showed increased elastic modulus and tensile strength, preserving the ductility of the pure PLA. Moreover, in the optimized nanocomposites the water permeability of PLA was reduced by 43% and the oxygen barrier also decreased to a significant extent. This paper provides a successful route to solve the long-standing issue related to the dispersion of highly polar unmodified cellulose nanowhiskers into PLA via the industrially meaningful melt compounding processing.
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