Plants could be a renewable and biodegradable alternative to the polymers currently used in 3-D printing materials, researchers have found.
A new paper, published in the journal Advanced Materials Technologies, found that cellulose might become an abundant material to print with.
"Cellulose is the most important component in giving wood its mechanical properties. And because it is so inexpensive, it is biorenewable, biodegradable and also very chemically versatile, it is used in a lot of products," said Sebastian Pattinson, lead author of a paper, from Massachusetts Institute Of Technology (MIT).
"Cellulose and its derivatives are used in pharmaceuticals, medical devices, as food additives, building materials, clothing -- all sorts of different areas. And a lot of these kinds of products would benefit from the kind of customisation that additive manufacturing [3-D printing] enables," Pattinson added.
When heated, cellulose thermally decomposes before it becomes flowable, partly because of the hydrogen bonds that exist between the cellulose molecules. The intermolecular bonding also makes high-concentration cellulose solutions too viscous to easily extrude.
"We found that the strength and toughness of the parts we got... was greater than many commonly used materials for 3-D printing, including acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and polylactic acid (PLA)," he said.
Cellulose acetate is already widely available as a commodity product. In bulk, the material is comparable in price to that of thermoplastics used for injection molding and it's much less expensive than the typical filament materials used for 3-D printing.