Vegetable waste in 3D printing using PLA

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A recent study by an international group of researchers suggests that pineapple leaf fiber (PALF) could be used to boost polylactic acid (PLA). They tested two types of PALF (raw and alkali-treated) combined with PLA, and the results showed better ductility for the former and better tensile strength for the latter. Both were however an improvement over PLA alone. This could have big implications for 3D printing using vegetable waste. Polylactic acid is a thermoplastic polymer, the most widely used plastic filament material for 3D printing. Its partially biodegradable characteristics, good thermal stability and ease of processing make it a popular choice for many industries. Therefore, any method to improve its properties is important.

The research process

The researchers were an international team, led by scientists Dr Mansingh from India, Dr JS Binoj from Malaysia and Associate Professor Eugene Wong from Singapore. To begin their study of plant materials and 3D printing, they took two samples from PALF. One was untreated, while the other was treated with an alkali of various weight percentages. Each was then tested separately by combining with PLA and then extruded in an FDM process. They used the Ultimaker 3 for this step. Several tests were carried out to evaluate the new properties of the product. These included infrared spectroscopy, visualization under a microscope to check for impurities, and thermal analysis which checked for thermal stability (how mass changed over time with changing temperature).

Researchers were investigating whether pineapple waste could be combined with PLA to make a stronger but still biodegradable filament (photo credits: David Adam Kess, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

They found that untreated, or crude, PALF had a higher elongation at break than that treated with an alkali, meaning better ductility. However, the 3 wt% alkali treated PALF reinforcement exhibited maximum tensile and flexural characteristics, so it was considered the optimum condition. Both reinforcements were an improvement on the PLA alone. This suggests that plant waste can actually be used for 3D printing to improve material properties and function.

While this experiment may seem abstract and theoretical at first glance, it could actually have implications for 3D printing in the future. The industry is constantly striving to achieve two goals: optimizing materials for better performing products and improving sustainability. Using biodegradable plant materials to improve PLA for 3D printing could be the answer; especially when the material is as accessible and inexpensive as pineapple fibers. This is not the first time that plant materials have been used for 3D printing. For example, Austrian company Extruder recently created a range of bio-responsible filaments called GreenTec and Biofusion, and Italian company WASP collaborated with Dior for a pop-up store using eco-friendly materials.

To read a copy of the report, you can click HERE. The full report is available at Polymer Composites, a scientific journal.

Experimentation process to create the products using a 3D printer and vegetable waste.

Experimentation process to create the products. (Photo credits: Umar Abdul Hanan, Shukur Abu Hassan, Mat Uzir Wahit, Joseph Selvi Binoj, Bright Brailson Mansingh, Kheng Lim Goh, in Polymer Composites).

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*Cover photo credit: NextEvo/Sourcing Journal

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