Dec 27, 2015 | By Alec

With the vast amount of plastic used (and wasted) by the 3D printing community, it’s always good to keep an eye open for new environmentally friendly material options. Of course, some materials like PLA are already better for the environment than others, but fully recycled materials are even better. And in that respect, a very good innovation has just come out of the Northeast Forestry University in China, where Professor of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Guo Yanling has developed a new material for laser 3D printers made from waste of the agricultural and forestry sectors.

This fantastic innovation was revealed last week called "agroforestry waste 3D printing material" and is reportedly suitable for building a wide range of excellent high quality creations: beautiful architectural models, precise industrial parts, even wood paintings. And all it takes is a pile of straw and similar materials. The material is also patented, features high precision results, is inexpensive to develop and will be the fourth 3D laser printing material.

Of course, most laser 3D printing setups work with plastics and nylons, materials that easily deform and are expensive to develop. What’s more, with industrial applications requiring high strength and precision properties, laser 3D printing setups are not even very suitable for a lot sectors. This new material by Guo Yanling’s team could change all that, as the composite is reportedly is stable in performance, high strength properties, is easily molded and can be 3D printed at high quality. Made from straw, rice hull, wood, bamboo and corn powders that cost less than 2 RMB per kilogram($0.30 UD), it only needs a few binders and can be commercially sold for as little as 100 RMB per kilogram (or $15 USD).

Guo Yanling, who has served as vice president in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering College of Northeast Forestry University for years, has already applied for three patents for this fantastic composite material. While also still teaching, this material will be manufactured through a specialized company founded just earlier this year.

This innovation is also good news for China’s agricultural industry. During the summer harvest and the period between fall and winter, lots of straw, corn and other leftovers tend to be burned in the fields, which is becoming a serious problem for rural environmental protection. It has, in fact, become one of the main causes for smog in Northeastern China. According to statistics, China as a large agricultural country, generates more than 700 million tons per year of straw, much of which is labeled as waste. So why not do something with all that waste? If processed into 3D printable material, it becomes a high value material that also takes little energy to manufacture, while decreasing pollution.

Guo Yanling therefore seems to be absolutely correct in thinking that this material could be a truly low-carbon energy-saving material. When introducing the material, she further stressed that 3D printing offers a lot of freedom: not only in printing objects with any complex structure, but also in the raw material choices you can make, stalks, rice hulls, walnut powder, clay, limestone, jade, graphite and other materials. In the future, she says, all materials can be customized according to customer demand. They could provide materials for a customer's new products, for prototyping or small quantity manufacturing. And after post-treatment, the mechanical strength can be comparable with wood, polymers, ceramics and other materials. In addition, the professor’s team is also able to adjust material proportions to achieve the necessary strength qualities a customer is looking for.

But it also obviously opens up the technology to a wide range of applications. In Guo Yanling’s lab, a 3D printer was seen to be in operation, with an assistant pouring powder into the machine. Within ten minutes, wood objects were created using mahogany powders, resulting in easily made paintings and other works of art with the help of CAD software. But jade, stone and graphite powders are obviously suitable for a wide range of other industries. In short, a lot is happening in the field of composite powder 3D printing, and Guo Yanling has already received orders from Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin and other machinery manufacturing and 3D printing businesses. How long will it take before these powders reach the west?



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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