With more and more green initiatives popping up around the world, the market for materials making environmentally-sustainable claims seems to be exploding. This week alone, there’s been a whole slew of developments regarding biopolymer-based 3D printing filaments.
Over in Canada, materials firms BOSK Bioproducts and Filaments.ca have launched the country’s first entirely bio-based, compostable line of 3D printing filaments. Named ‘Made with REGEN’, the PHA-based biopolymers contain no fossil fuel oils or chemical additives.
Elsewhere, in London, the Otrivin Air Lab exhibition is showcasing how photobioreactors can be used to turn CO2 waste into 3D printing materials. Created by Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of the ecoLogicStudio, the exhibition features a set of 12 photobioreactors capable of photosynthesis, which use CO2 to produce biomass that can be harvested to make 3D printable biopolymer filaments.
In the research sphere, scientists at EPFL have developed their own biopolymer using non-edible plant material, aka lignocellulosic biomass. The material can be drawn into filament form for 3D printing and behaves similarly to PET, offering toughness, heat resistance, and a great barrier to gases like oxygen. Additionally, the polymer can also be chemically recycled, or simply degrade back into sugar in natural conditions.
Canada’s first bio-based compostable filaments
The Made with REGEN filament line relies on bioplastic pellets made in-house by BOSK, which are then turned into filament form by Filaments.ca. As well as biodegrading faster than commonly-used PLA, the firms state the materials also deliver superior mechanical performance, allowing for parts that are less brittle, more heat resistant, and with smoother finishes.
Available in six different colors, Made with REGEN materials are reportedly suitable for small decorative parts such as figurines, accessories around the home, office supplies, and other non-critical consumer goods.
Laurence Boudreault, General Manager of BOSK Bioproducts, said, “It is a common practice in the industry to integrate fossil-based additives to improve the performance of bioplastics, but which have harmful impacts on the health of human beings and our environment. By offering entirely biobased and compostable filaments, BOSK wants to provide a solution to the 3D printing market, well known for the waste from failed prints.”
Turning CO2 into 3D printed parts
Each of the photobioreactors at the Otrivin Air Lab exhibition is a glass vessel containing 10L of photosynthetic microalgae. The reactors are designed to absorb CO2, release oxygen, and produce useful biomass. Every day, the 12 bioreactors take in a total of 240g of CO2, while releasing 180g of oxygen and 84g of biomass.
Visitors of the exhibition are invited to take part in the daily harvesting process, which collects the biomass to be converted into a 3D printable biopolymer. The resulting filaments are then used to 3D print stools, vases, and even Fibonacci-inspires NetiPots. By turning air waste into useful products, the lab is showing just how powerful circular economy initiatives can be.
EPFL’s wood-based biopolymer
Finally, the EPFL biopolymer gets much of its structure from lignin, which is found in the walls of plant cells. To develop the material, the team simply ‘cooked’ wood and other plant waste material using inexpensive chemicals. According to the researchers, this extracts lignin and keeps the sugar structure intact to produce the biodegradable polymer precursor in just one step.
“By using an aldehyde – glyoxylic acid – we could simply clip ‘sticky’ groups onto both sides of the sugar molecules, which then allows them to act as plastic building blocks,” explains Lorenz Manker, first author of the study. “By using this simple technique, we are able to convert up to 25% of the weight of agricultural waste, or 95% of purified sugar, into plastic.”
The EPFL material can withstand temperatures of up to 100°C, while offering a tensile strength of up to 77 MPa and a stiffness of up to 2,500 MPa. As such, the team believes it can be used in everything from packaging and textiles to medicine and electronics.
Further details of the study can be found in the paper titled ‘Sustainable polyesters via direct functionalization of lignocellulosic sugars’.
The market for sustainable materials
Just last month, Brazilian petrochemical firm Braskem released its first set of sustainable 3D printing filaments. The product line comprises three different filaments produced from bio-based ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), recycled polyethylene (PE), and polypropylene (PP). FL600EVA-BIO, in particular, is a bio-based EVA material derived from raw sugar cane.
Elsewhere, researchers from the University of Delaware (UD) recently released a new research paper exploring ways of economically upcycling biomass into new 3D printing materials. The paper focuses on lignin and demonstrates that it is possible to efficiently turn it into bio-based 3D printing resins in an approach they claim is competitive with similar petroleum-based products.
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Featured image shows bioreactors and 3D printed parts at the Otrivin Air Lab. Photo via ecoLogicStudio.