Plastic in 3D printing could be replaced by plant cellulose

Boston – Published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies is a new study demonstrating that plant cellulose could be the renewable and biodegradable alternative to polymers that are currently heavily used in the 3D printing industry.

Plant cellulose have found a range of uses in pharmaceuticals, medical devices as food additives, building materials, clothing, and all sorts of different areas. It is an inexpensive, biorenewable, biodegradable and also very chemically versatile and that’s the reason it is heavily used across a number of industries.

Authors of the study point out that all these products that are developed from plant cellulose would benefit from the kind of customisation that additive manufacturing – 3D printing enables. When heated, cellulose thermally decomposes before it becomes flowable. The intermolecular bonding also makes high-concentration cellulose solutions too viscous to easily extrude, researchers said.

To avoid this problem, researchers chose to work with cellulose acetate – a material that is easily made from cellulose and is already widely produced and readily available. Using cellulose acetate the number of hydrogen bonds in this material was reduced by the acetate groups. Cellulose acetate can be dissolved in acetone and extruded through a nozzle.

As the acetone quickly evaporates, the cellulose acetate solidifies in place. A subsequent optional treatment replaces the acetate groups and increases the strength of the printed parts.

Once a particular thing is 3D printed, authors revealed that they restore the hydrogen bonding network through a sodium hydroxide treatment. Researchers say that the strength and toughness of the parts they 3D print are greater than many commonly used materials for 3D printing, including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA).