A study published in the journal Applied Bio Materials and Biomacromolecules has reported the development of wood-based biopaste suitable for the 3D printing process. According to researchers from the University of Freiburg, the viscous biopaste can be processed easily and is suitable for the production of complex 3D printed structures.

The biodegradable synthetic substance could be used potentially in lightweight construction and used for several other purposes. Talking about the nature of the new substance. Marie-Pierre Laborie, lead author of the study said, "This is why we're researching into alternative possibilities for making better use of this raw material in future."

From Waste to Valuable

3D printers
Representational Picture IANS

Lignin strengthens the cell walls of plants and causes them to turn woody (lignify) - a mechanism that helps plants to protect themselves against wind or pests. It is a waste product from paper manufacture and largely incinerated to produce bioenergy.

As a result, the team started to reexamine a combination of materials which was already investigated in the 1980s by an American research team. In this system, liquid crystals based on cellulose, the main component of plant cell walls, ensure not only the strength but also the good flow properties of the biopaste.

The other component, lignin, can 'stick together' the microstructure in the process of creating the biosynthetic, as Robert Gleuwitz discovered in his doctoral thesis. Its orientation subsequently determines the characteristics of the biosynthetic: for instance, it can respond more rigidly or more flexibly, depending on the direction from which the force comes.

Testing New Uses

Further research work will however be necessary until an industrial application is possible, for example as a composite in lightweight construction. Until now the team has used exceptionally pure lignin which is produced in a pilot biorefinery at the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes (CBP) in Leuna - whether the waste product from the paper industry can also be directly processed still has to be researched.

As Lisa Ebers shows in her doctoral thesis, the characteristics of the biosynthetic can also be varied in many ways, for instance by chemically processing or varying the components: Trials to date have used lignin from beech trees - if it is obtained from other plants it will have slightly different material characteristics such as different liquid crystals, even though they are all based on cellulose.

The optimal quantity ratios also differ depending on the planned application. In addition, the researchers will soon be testing an entirely different possible use: the quality of soil can be analyzed with the help of the bio-based material. This takes place by studying the degradability of lignin and cellulose in various types of soil.

(With inputs from agencies)