Take That, Quagga Mussels: Student Turns an Invasive Species into 3D Printer Filament

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The quagga mussel is an invasive species that has caused a great deal of trouble in the Great Lakes. It’s an aggressive creature, native to eastern Europe, that kills other species, breeds quickly, and messes up ecosystems. But Davidson College sophomore Lorena James has found a use for quagga mussels – 3D printing them. When James was in high school, she came up with an idea in an entrepreneurship class – creating 3D printer filament out of the shell of the quagga mussel. Previously Spanish designer Carmen Brio also created a PLA filament from the shells of muscles and oysters from restaurants. In that case, the shells were ground down and the idea was to recycle restaurant waste and turn it into a higher impact filament. Laura James is doing this specifically with one kind of mussel local to her.

After pitching the idea to her class, James entered her Z Spools concept in the Cleveland Water Alliance Erie Hack competition and won. Now she has applied for a utility patent for the product, and is thinking about how to mass produce it.

Lorena James

3D printer filament has been made out of all sorts of bizarre materials, from the byproducts of beer brewing to another problematic species, algae. Creating filament from quagga mussels won’t solve the issue of the invasive species, but it’s an interesting concept, and an eco-friendly one.

“I do help relieve the issue of making the beach unsanitary and unpleasant for beach goers,” said James. “And bring attention to other issues. I’m also bring attention to invasive species issue, providing new method for sustainable 3D printing.”

Quagga mussel shells have the potential to produce attractive 3D prints, too – they may be a menace to the Great Lakes, but filament made from their shells is unique, producing a pale gray color.

To make the filament, James crushes up the quagga mussel shells and mixes them with PLA pellets, which she then extrudes using a filament extruder she purchased from Filabot. She plans to reach out to Filabot to see if they will mass produce her filament once she returns from Shanghai, where she is currently studying abroad. After that, James may pursue ideas that involve the use of other invasive species; she’s very interested in the idea of a circular economy. Her first idea, before she came up with the Z-Spools concept, was to sell hydrilla verticillata, an invasive water plant, as food. She scrapped that idea, however, after realizing how much pollution the plants absorb from the lake.

James’ passionate pursuit of her idea came from disappointment – her entrepreneurship class had no interest in her idea, preferring instead “startups involving pillows, cruises and ice cream, none of which solved any problems I viewed worth pursuing,” she said. She admits she was somewhat bitter, but she took that bitterness and channeled it into bigger things, like taking her idea to Erie Hack. That competition ended up being a catalyst for her business pursuits.

“Without Erie Hack, there’s no way I would have wanted to pursue entrepreneurship as early as I did,” she said.

James is only 19, but she has a strong vision and passion for helping the environment and making the world a better place. Her Z-Spools idea is an ingenious one – rather than simply getting quagga mussels off the beach, she is creating something useful with them. If she continues pursuing her ideas about turning invasive species into useful products, she could end up with a successful business, catering to the many people who feel the same way that she does about the environment.

“When I came to Cleveland for Erie Hack, I thought people in Cleveland appreciated Lake Erie more and found more uses, than people in Buffalo,” she said. “But it’s changing. People are appreciating lake more. When I return from Davidson I’ll be spending a lot more time on the lake. I think Z Spools has definitely brought me closer to the lake.”

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: Cleveland.com/Images courtesy of Lorena James]

 

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