Bringing sustainability to 3D printing

With the help of 3D printing, the on-demand economy is booming. Goods are produced only as and when needed and local production replaces logistics chains and factories, reducing waste and pollution while increasing customer satisfaction. Not only can consumers get their hands on the product immediately, there is also greater flexibility for customization according to individual preferences.

The challenge of 3D printing

3D printing allows objects to be created by depositing one layer at a time, based on a digital model made using computer-aided design (CAD). But there’s a problem: the plastics commonly used as printing materials are made using non-renewable, non bio-compatible materials that are challenging to recycle using existing processes. What’s more, some of these plastics need to be processed to make them suitable for 3D printing. The plasticizers and other chemicals used in this process can contain allergenic compounds or generate harmful emissions during use, which means 3D printers need to be placed in well-ventilated areas to ensure safety.

An eco-friendly alternative

Wood-based cellulosic 3D-printing materials offer a renewable bio-based alternative to plastics that greatly reduces the environmental burden of the technology – enabling the creation of new products and markets that can contribute to a sustainable on-demand society. Although native cellulose is not a thermoplastic material, it can be chemically modified so that it can be processed in the same way as regular oil-based plastics. Cellulose is not only non-allergenic, but it also tolerates high temperatures and is an excellent electrical insulator. It’s also lightweight and can be processed into multiple forms – filament, powder, or paste – increasing the types, flexibility, and complexity of end products that can be printed.

Another advantage of native cellulose is its biocompatibility, which makes it suitable for medical applications – for example, incorporating slow-release therapeutic drugs into a 3D-printed cellulose-based implant, or creating a scaffolding for printing tissue. Orthopaedics and prosthetics can also be customized and printed to fit each individual patient perfectly.

Given the benefits, it is not surprising that cellulose-based printing materials are already being used to replace plastics and other materials in 3D printing. Bio-based 3D printing will not only help reduce waste, but it will lead to entirely new products and applications in everything from wearable tech to medicine to housing. Now is the ideal time for companies to start researching this eco-friendly technology in order to help create a sustainable on-demand economy.

Learn more about our thoughts on bio-based 3D printing >

Join our upcoming webinar 7th Jun: 3D printing of cellulosic materials:

Hannes Orelma
Senior Scientist
hannes.orelma(a)vtt.fi

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