What do you get when you combine oven-baked mussels and sugar beets in a kitchen blender? No, it isn’t some new smoothie cleanse or fad diet. It’s an experimental new recyclable 3D printing material developed by [Joost Vette], an Industrial Design Engineering student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. While some of the limitations of the material mean it’s fairly unlikely you’ll be passing over PLA for ground-up shellfish anytime soon, it does have a few compelling features worth looking into.
For one thing, it’s completely biodegradable. PLA is technically biodegradable as it’s usually made primarily of cornstarch, but in reality, it can be rather difficult to break down. Depending on the conditions, PLA could last years exposed to the elements and not degrade to any significant degree. But [Joost] says his creation degrades readily when exposed to moisture; so much so that he theorizes it could have applications as a water-soluble support material when printing with a multiple extruder machine.
What’s more, after the material has been dissolved into the water, it can be reconstituted and put back into the printer. Failed prints could be recycled directly back into fresh printing material without any special hardware. According to [Joost], this process can be repeated indefinitely with no degradation to the material itself, “A lot of materials become weaker when recycled, this one does not.”
So how can you play along at home? The first challenge is finding the proper ratio between water, sugar, and the powder created by grinding up mussel shells necessary to create a smooth paste. It needs to be liquid enough to be extruded by the printer, but firm enough to remain structurally sound until it dries out and takes its final ceramic-like form. As for the 3D printer, it looks like [Joost] is using a paste extruder add-on for the Ultimaker 2, though the printer and extruder combo itself isn’t going to be critical as long as it can push out a material of the same viscosity.
We’ve seen a number of DIY paste extruder mods for 3D printers, which is a good starting point if you’re getting sick of boring old plastic. Before long you might find yourself printing with living tissue.
[Thanks to Mynasru for the tip]