May 28, 2015 | By Lilian

Atlanta, GA based American Process and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oak Ridge, TN) announced that they have signed a joint agreement to improve the strength of 3D printing plastic resins using nanocellulose, a rapidly emerging high performance, bioderived nanomaterial extracted from trees.

A well-known constraint of 3D printing is the limited number of feedstock materials available. Traditionally used thermoplastic resins provide inadequate mechanical strength to printed parts, which are not suitable for load bearing applications.

The goal of this project is to find a 3D printable material that is suitable for producing load-bearing parts for automotive and mold manufacturing that have strengths similar to metallic components such as aluminum and cost-parity with traditional materials.

While carbon fibers have been used as a reinforcing material for 3D printing resins, their high cost and dependency on petroleum has led researchers at ORNL to investigate more economical alternative reinforcing agents such as nanocellulose.

American Process Inc's sub-microscopic cellulose from trees, known as nanocellulose.

Nanocellulose is a material derived from wood fibres. It is a renewable, strong, lightweight material that can be used to manufacture high-strength, durable parts.

"Nanocellulose can enhance the performance of plastics in an environmentally friendly and market competitive way." said Theodora Retsina, American Process Inc.'s CEO. "Carbon fibers are extremely strong and lightweight but expensive to produce and used only in the highest end applications such as aerospace and luxury vehicles. Nanocellulose is as strong as carbon fiber and are lower weight. With our manufacturing breakthrough, nanocellulose is significantly more cost competitive than carbon fibers. We didn't invent nanocellulose; we made it less expensive, thermally stable at high temperatures, and gave it functionality to blend with hydrophobic polymers – thereby enabling market applications and opening the road to commercial production."

Image: Wikipedia

American Process began production of a suite of BioPlus™ nanocellulose products in April 2015 at their pre-commercial BioPlus™ plant in Thomaston, Georgia. Material from this plant will be used by ORNL to 3D print a large scale component on their giant "Big Area Additive Manufacturing" (BAAM) 3D printing machine. The BAAM machine, developed by Cincinnati Incorporated, was used for printing a full-size sports car last year. The deposition rate of 40 pounds per hour of carbon reinforced ABS plastic and the large size mean that large parts, like a car, can be produced with precise accuracy. It is capable of printing components up to 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall.

The Nanocellulose material could be an economical substitute for expensive carbon fibers currently used in 3D printing to make load bearing parts. In the aerospace and automotive industries, 3D printing can help achieve performance gains such as light weighting and fuel efficiency if high strength resin composites are more readily available that provide greater tensile strength, durability, and resistance to impact.

The research at ORNL is supported by the Advanced Manufacturing Office in DOE(U.S. Department of Energy)'s Office Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

"We are excited about the opportunity to work with American Process Inc. to develop nanocellulose reinforced polymers with the objective of achieving a completely bio-derived new structural material for additive manufacturing," said Craig Blue, Director, Advanced Manufacturing Program and Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.


Posted in 3D Printing Materials


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