Singapore: Researchers Create Reprocessable Thermosets to Eliminate Waste in 3D Printing

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As our world becomes more and more environmentally conscious, the topic of how to leave a smaller footprint everywhere we go is a popular one. And 3D printing is no exception as those creating often make an effort to use hardware and materials that leave as little impact as possible. Disposing of plastic waste can be challenging though, and over time, numerous individuals and companies have thought of innovative ways to reduce waste—from actually turning e-waste into 3D printers to creating filament from trash and making interesting items.

If you are an avid 3D printing hobbyist or know one, you may be concerned about the amount of discarded plastic, much of which is not biodegradable or recyclable. Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have been tackling this challenge by creating 3D printed reprocessable thermosets (3DPRTs). Their work, centered around reshaping, repairing, and recycling 3D printed structures, has recently been explained in ‘Reprocessable thermosets for sustainable three-dimensional printing.’

As the volume of 3D printing around the world grows, SUTD researchers are concerned:

“… 3D printed structures formed with the traditional thermosetting photopolymers cannot be reprocessed as the polymer networks are covalent crosslinked,” they state in their research work. “This unprocessable nature, combined with the explosion in 3D printing globally, is leading to vast waste of 3D printing materials with serious environmental implications.”

3D prints that are damaged cannot be repaired through traditional methods as the networks are rendered unusable; with the use of 3DPRTs, however, the objects can be fixed via thermal self-healing.

“Thermal treatments were conducted by placing UV cured samples in a universal heating oven (Memmert Oven U, Germany) at a set temperature for a set period of time,” state the researchers.

As an example, the researchers worked on a 3D print in the shape of a rabbit. The ears had been broken off, so they began by polishing the areas to be repaired and then heated the piece to 180°C for four hours. This level of increased malleability allowed them to reshape and repair the rabbit due to improvement in mechanical performance.

[Image: Kavin Kowsari]

The researchers were also successful in their recycling efforts by grinding samples into ‘fine powders’ and then pressing them in between foil-coated metal plates.

“We have developed, for the first time, the reprocessable thermosetting photopolymers designed for DLP based high-resolution 3D printing,” said Assistant Professor Qi (Kevin) Ge from SUTD’s Science and Math Cluster, a project-co-leader.

“Overall, we believe the development of 3DPRTs provides a practical solution to address environmental challenges associated with the ongoing rapid increase in the consumption of 3D printing materials which are increasingly being utilized in a broad range of advanced applications including tissue engineering, soft robotics, nano-devices, and many others,” said Professor Martin Dunn, another co-leader for the project, and Dean of College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Denver.

Recyclability of 3D printing reprocessable thermosets. a Stability comparison of a printed structure with 3DPRT and structures printed with commercial available thermoplastics (PLA and ABS) and thermoset (Vero-black) at high temperature (220 °C). b Demonstration of recycling of a structure printed with 3DPRT. c Uniaxial tensile tests to examine the mechanical repeatability of the recycled 3DPRTs. Scale bar: 5 mm

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[Source: Nature Communications; Nanowerk News]

 

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