Scientists sustainably 3D print large objects out of cellulose

June 6 (UPI) — Scientists have developed a way to sustainably 3D print large objects using cellulose, a feat previously complicated by a variety of scaling issues and environmental concerns.

Because cellulose is one of the most abundant commercially available compounds, material scientists have been trying to find ways to use it in additive manufacturing. But previous methods yielded too many toxic byproducts, required the use plastics and cost too much.

Scientists at the Singapore University of Technology and Design were able to avoid previous problems using a new method for growing cellulose. Researchers introduced small amounts of chitin, a derivative of glucose, to fibers of cellulose. The technique yielded what scientists call fungal-like adhesive materials, or FLAM.

According to researchers, FLAM is completely biodegradable and requires no synthetic plastics to produce. It’s also much cheaper to grow than tradition filaments used in 3D printing.

“This reproduction and manufacturing with the material composition found in the oomycete wall, namely unmodified cellulose, small amounts of chitosan — the second most abundant organic molecule on earth — and low concentrated acetic acid, is probably one of the most successful technological achievements in the field of bioinspired materials,” Javier Gomez Fernandez, an assistant professor at SUTD, said in a news release.

Buoyed by their success, scientists developed a unique additive manufacturing method to accompany their new cellulose material.

Researchers detailed their breakthrough in the journal Scientific Reports.

“We believe the results reported here represent a turning point for global manufacturing with broader impact on multiple areas ranging from material science, environmental engineering, automation and the economy,” SUTD researcher Stylianos Dritsas said.

Researchers now hope to partner with industrial collaborators to bring their technology from the lab to the factory, and to develop real-world applications for FLAM.