Jun 24, 2016 | By Tess

We’ve all 3D printed with PLA or ABS, and some of us have even 3D printed objects out of hemp or beer based bio-filaments, but it is doubtful that many of us have ever even considered 3D printing with orange peel, or even stranger, shrimp peel filaments! To a team of students from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IaaC) in Spain, however, this idea has not seemed so far-fetched.

In a research project called Piel Vivo/Bio-Plastica, a team of students from the IaaC set out to explore the creation of new bio-plastics, which are essentially plastics made from organic compounds that can be biodegraded. As the research team explains on their webpage, “We were curious to learn more about bio-plastic, since there are numerous advantages of this material, including the following: paramentric material, affordable, accessible, lightweight, non-toxic, rigid / flexible, transperent, heat responsive, designer/maker can control, biodegradable.”

You might be wondering where the orange peels come into play. Well, wanting to experiment with the creation of bio-plastics that really took on the philosophy of ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, the research team began to look at the incorporation of food waste into their plastics. Being from Spain, a country famous for its oranges, the students investigated how the fruit by-product could be used and found that actually, the organic waste material could even offer benefits to a bio-plastic.

Orange peel, as the students explain, contains cellulose, one of the most plentiful organic polymers on earth. Among the benefits offered by orange peel’s organic composition are a high tensile strength, due to the high molecular chain length of cellulose, and a high heat resistance, from cellulose’s crystalline nature.

To test the properties of an orange-peel based bio-plastic, the research team opted to work with gelatine based bio-plastics, because of gelatine’s good mechanical properties. In addition to the orange peel bio-plastic, the team also experimented with shrimp peel, and coffee powder based plastics.

After a number of material experiments and tests on their various bio-plastics, the team reportedly found that the orange peel bio-plastic showed promising strength and a high heat-resistance, while the coffee powder based plastic proved more hydrophobic (essentially water-repellant). The students did find however, that the bio-plastics did tend to shrink and bend over extended periods of time. They explain, “The higher percentage of food-waste we used in the material, the more the material would bend on its own. The input of dehydrating the material would trigger an output of a self-assembly behaviour of the form. This was most dramatic in the coffee based bio-plastic.”

The true beauty of the project, however, lies in its potentials. By being able to use and incorporate various properties from naturally existing materials like food-waste, bio-plastics could be custom made for certain purposes and with specific properties. As mentioned, to make their project as ecological as possible, the research team was working with food-waste particular to Spain, but they believe their method could be implemented elsewhere, with varying food-waste products depending on the geographical region.

In the long term, the IaaC research group hopes to implement their bio-plastic system into their local urban environment by setting up food-waste collection points in neighbourhoods, and implementing a sorting system from which bio-plastics could be created. “The bio-plastic can be made on-demand based on the user requirements, and go directly back for distribution to its local community, reducing the need for transportation,” they say.

Whether we will be 3D printing from orange peel filaments in the near future remains to be seen, but there is no question that the IaaC research team is onto something with their forward thinking and ecological Piel Vivo/Bio-Plastica project.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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