Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have developed a technique for printing large 3D objects using cellulose, one of the main components in wood. They believe it will revolutionize manufacturing - providing a cheap, renewable, and biodegradable alternative to plastic and creating conditions for a circular economy.
“We believe the results reported here represent a turning point for global manufacturing with a broader impact on multiple areas ranging from material science, environmental engineering, automation and the economy,” said Assistant Professor Stylianos Dritsas, team joint leader.
“We are now at the stage of seeking industrial collaborators to bring this technology from the laboratory to the world.”
The SUTD team combined cellulose with chitin, a polymer found in the cell walls of fungi. By introducing controlled amounts of chitin between cellulose fibers, researchers managed to trigger a fungal-like development, making the materials stronger and easier to work with.
The material can be processed in the same ways as wood: including drilling, sawing, and sanding.
No organic solvents are used in the process, making production of the material - which researchers call FLAM (Fungal-like adhesive material) - completely ecologically sustainable and repeatable in any laboratory. Furthermore, the material is producible at scale.
FLAM does not require any involvement with plastics and costs 10 times less than the common filaments for 3D printing, such as polylactic acid, according to the researchers.
Researchers demonstrated the new material by 3D printing a 4-foot-long turbine blade and a chair.
According to SUTD Assistant Professor Javier Fernandez, FLAM production is "probably one of the most successful technological achievements in the field of bio-inspired materials to date."
With the increase in waste and pollution, the urgency for more sustainable manufacturing processes is growing, say researchers.
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