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ORNL Develops Plant-Based Print Material

There have been great strides made in developing new 3D printing materials, everything from new plastics, metals, food, and even human cells. Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) are further expanding the 3D print palette with plant-based materials.

A cross-section of the weld area between two 3D-printed layers of a plant-based composite material developed by ORNL. Image: Christopher Bowland/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy.

The scientists are using lignin, a byproduct of the biofuel manufacturing process, which is combined with rubber, carbon fiber and ABS to create structures that have “100 percent improved weld strength between layers over ABS alone,” according to Oak Ridge.

According to ORNL, this is a potential new use for the waste stream from biorefineries. The lignin has a low melt viscosity, which facilitates melt flow, as well as thermal crosslinking for the lignin and rubber phases of the material. The carbon fiber improves material performance and lowers the degree of chemical crosslinking formed in the matrix during the melt-phase synthesis, and working with ABS improves the bonding of the structure.

Researchers at ORNL developed a scalable processing technique to 3D print a plant-based composite material. Image credit: Ngoc Nguyen/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Researchers at ORNL developed a scalable processing technique to 3D print a plant-based composite material. Image credit: Ngoc Nguyen/Oak Ridge National Laboratory, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Lignin is a polymer found in most terrestrial plants. While it can be burned to generate power in industrial-scale biorefineries, modern facilities generate more lignin than can be used for power operation.

According to ORNL, the researchers there will continue to test and improve the lignin-based print materials they have developed.

“To achieve this, we are building on our experience with lignin during the last five years,” said ORNL’s Amit Naskar. “We will continue fine tuning the material’s composition to make it even stronger.”

The team published the research in Applied Materials Today.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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