Researchers at Penn State University are working to replace large-format 3D printing plastics with plant-derived sustainable resins. A sustainable resin material made from agriculturally derived components could be a step forward in the construction of large objects. According to Penn State agricultural and biological engineers, the new resin can be used to make furniture, boats, and other similar sized objects.
The team’s effort to develop a substitute for currently available expensive, highly engineered resin materials that are mixtures of petrochemically derived components will be supported by a three-year, $650,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Replace 3D printing plastics with new plant-derived resins
Stereolithography is a 3D object creation technique that uses a computer-controlled moving laser beam to build up a required structure layer by layer from a liquid polymer that hardens when exposed to laser light.
“Our project team’s long-term goal is to develop new and sustainable bioproducts from lignocellulosic biomass — or dry plant matter — that economically enable a low-carbon bioeconomy. The objective of this proposal, which is a step toward our long-term goal, is to create a renewable resin material comprised of agriculturally derived components that will enable large-format 3D printing by stereolithography.”– Stephen Chmely, Team leader and assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering in the College of Agricultural Sciences
The researchers are working to create renewable stereolithography resins containing these biomaterials and soybean oil by developing chemical transformations of plant-derived materials lignin and nanocellulose. Lignin is a complex organic polymer found in many plant cell walls that makes them rigid and woody. Nanocellulose is made up of tiny particles that are typically made from wood pulp, but it can also be made from any cellulosic plant material.
According to Chmely, nanocellulose is a “exciting class” of cellulose materials with properties and functionalities distinct from bulk cellulose and wood pulp. As a result, it is being developed for uses that were previously thought to be impossible for cellulosic materials.
Chmely expressed that the team hopes to demonstrate that the new resins have higher elasticity, toughness, and thermal resistance than existing commercial resins. The properties of the new materials will be evaluated by the researchers using spectroscopic and microscopic investigations, mechanical testing, and thermal analysis.
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The team is well positioned to conduct this research because it is part of Penn State’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, which provides members with a unique perspective at the intersection of materials science and engineering with agriculture and forestry, according to Chmely.
Chmely concluded that the team has a wealth of expertise in lignin chemistry, cellulose nanomaterials and 3D printing by stereolithography. He added, “Collectively, these breakthroughs will have significant positive impacts on industries working in additive manufacturing and biorefining, on academic researchers working in the fields of materials science and biomass chemistry, and on rural communities that provide biomass feedstocks for these efforts as they are scaled up and deployed.”
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