Fraunhofer UMSICHT and IBP institutes partner to 3D print fungus-based sound absorbers - 3D Printing Industry
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Fraunhofer UMSICHT and IBP institutes partner to 3D print fungus-based sound absorbers

The Fraunhofer UMSICHT institute has teamed up with Fraunhofer IBP to investigate the potential of using mushrooms to create eco-friendly sound-proofing devices. 

By mixing the fungus’ filament-like hyphae with natural waste byproducts, the scientists were able to develop a new material that, once 3D printed, yields objects with noise-absorbing qualities. With further R&D, the team aims to fabricate a new line of sustainable acoustic prototypes, that outperform conventional products. 

“There’s currently a focus on vegetal substrates and mycelium, as the mycelial hyphae spread throughout the substrate and create a solid structure,” explained Fraunhofer UMSICHT’s Julia Krayer. “The end products could probably be used as insulating material, but this would require more intensive research.”

Featured image shows a 3D printed mycelium sample produced by the Fraunhofer team during testing. Photo via Fraunhofer UMSICHT.
The researchers’ mycelial 3D printed prototypes (pictured) could form a basis for future fabricated sound-proofing products. Photo via Fraunhofer UMSICHT.

The necessity of noise-cancellation 

Although recent technological advances have made the world a smaller place, they’ve also created a noisier environment in which to live in. For some people, this workplace chatter or loud music from their neighbors causes them considerable stress, but this can often be alleviated using sufficient sound-proofing padding. 

These absorption devices can also be deployed to improve the acoustics of a room, and many modern interior designs feature synthetic panels that are fitted for this purpose. Indeed, 3D printing has already been used in this area by TU Delft and Materialise, to fabricate low-cost acoustic panels, with highly-complex geometries. 

Despite this prevalence of options for consumers though, there remains a gap in the market for more sustainably-sourced devices. Many existing products consist of man-made foams or mineral fibers that cannot be easily recycled, and this has prompted the two institutes to collaborate on creating an eco-friendly alternative. 

The researchers' 3D printed panels were custom-designed to absorb certain frequencies. Photo via TU Delft.
Materialise and TU Delft have used 3D printing to create acoustic panels before, but these were made using conventional materials. Photo via TU Delft.

The fungus-based printing process

Using mushrooms was the idea of Fraunhofer UMSICHT’s Julia Krayer, who has been developing biomaterials for several years. Given that mycelium already consist of a fine network of filament-like hyphae, and they grow naturally in the wild, Krayer and her team considered them an ideal basis for a new eco-friendly printing material. 

To create their filament, the scientists mixed mushrooms with a vegetable-based substrate consisting of straw, wood and food waste. The team then 3D printed their mixture, and the mycelium was found to spread across the object, yielding a porous product with open cells, that once kiln-dried featured noise-absorbing capabilities. 

According to Fraunhofer IBP’s Roman Wack, precisely fabricating thin layers of the fungal filament could make it a perfect sound-proofing product. “The material, which is permeated by mycelium, has a very solid structure,” said Wack. “This means that much thinner layers of it could be used to make sound absorbers.”

Utilizing their novel material, the UMSICHT scientists are currently creating several sustainable prototypes for testing, but the filament’s potential isn’t just limited to acoustics. The team is also developing fungal faux leather, fabric and plastic, with the prospect of 3D printing clothing, furniture or electrical housings in future. 

Additive inches towards sustainability 

While many 3D printing thermoplastics consist of chemicals that can be damaging to the environment, many scientists have now created their own eco-friendly alternatives. 

Scientists from the University of Freiburg have developed a novel sustainable wood-based 3D printing material. Based on the lignin chemical found within plant cells, the biosynthetic polymer could be deployed within light construction applications.

Researchers from the Lithuania-based Vilnius University and the Kaunas University of Technology, meanwhile, have produced a fully-recyclable resin for O3P 3D printing. The soybean-derived material is designed to provide increased bio-compatibility at a lower cost than petroleum-based polymers. 

On a more charitable note, the non-profit group GreenBatch has established a program for turning ocean waste into free 3D printing filament for schools. The project, which has seen 50 plastic collection points set up in Australia, aims to remove 100 million bottles from the sea by 2025. 

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Featured image shows a 3D printed mycelium sample that was produced by the Fraunhofer team during testing. Photo via Fraunhofer UMSICHT.