I am fundraising for a new print-head to support my research in developing an alternative to conventional plastic.
Plastic has become an integral part of current lifestyles, but we all know it can be problematic. Conventional plastics are derived from fossil fuels - fostering a heavy reliance on a valuable and limited resource. Non-biodegradable plastics (which form the vast majority of all plastic) are often used inappropriately in single-use products or those with a short lifetime. The result of this is the accumulation of waste plastic in the environment, collecting either in landfill sites or as litter.
Cellulose is the world’s most abundant and well-studied biopolymer. Its low cost, natural abundance, biodegradable, renewable and mechanical robust. All of which make it an attractive alternative to conventional plastics.
I have been developing 3D printing techniques to create intricate and fully customisable structures from cellulose. Using a simple set-up and rudimentary print-head, I have established proof of concept. However, prints regularly suffer from the inadequate equipment i currently have available. Such failures compromise the whole print, and ultimately result in a waste of time and material - this is not only frustrating, but also expensive - as a single 1 kg bottle of ionic liquid costs £630!
A superior print-head would minimise these occurrences, and allow for better accuracy and improved dispensing in the 3D printing of cellulose solutions.
Using specialist 3D printing techniques, whereby sequential layers of solution are dispensed onto a build platform, it has been possible to 3D print solutions of cellulose dissolved in an ionic liquid. This allows for the formation of intricate and customisable biodegradable structures, such as meshes and grids.
One application of these structures is in wastewater treatment, as a support for bacteria. Currently, these micro-organisms are hosted on a plastic support; although precautions are taken to contain these plastics, escape of these pellets can - and indeed has - led to their uncontrolled release directly into the ocean. Here, they not only contribute to the persistent problem of plastic pollution, but also pose a threat to marine wildlife. Cellulose-based structures are ecofriendly replacements to such plastic supports, as their non-toxic and biodegradable credentials eliminate any risk associated with such an event.
Preliminary research using this print-head will follow up on observed shape morphing properties of regenerated cellulose structures during drying - this change in shape over time is often dubbed '4D printing'. Using such a method, it is possible to target complex shapes, which are not conventionally accessible by 3D printing without the extensive use of structural supports.