Oct 26, 2017 | By Tess

Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the American University in Washington, DC have found that 3D printed ABS plastic has the potential to integrate substances that can store and detect gases in the environment. The discovery could have applications in combatting greenhouses gases and in advancing hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The substance in question is called a metal-organic framework, or MOF for short. MOFs are essentially a type of material that can be adapted to attract and store specific types of gas. Currently, MOFs are used in petroleum refining processes.

Recently, however, a team of scientists from NIST and American University recognized the potential in MOFs to be used in gas sensing technology, largely because of the material’s ability to catch and filter such gases as methane and carbon dioxide.

Still, the project wasn’t quite as simple as releasing MOFs into the air to catch the greenhouse gas molecules, as the researchers had to find a way to transform the MOF particles (which reportedly have the consistency of dust when they are in bulk) into a practical sensor structure.

And that’s where 3D printing came in.

The scientists realized that if they could mix MOFs into 3D printable plastics that there was the potential to additively manufacture MOF-embedded sensors in almost any shape or structure, making the technology adaptable for a wide range of applications.

According to the team, plastic—though a simple solution—was the perfect material to house the MOFs because its permeability allows gases to pass through it, which would in turn allow the MOFs to catch the gas molecules they are designed to recognize.

After conducting tests, the researchers found that 3D printable plastic and MOFs did mesh well, as the MOFs maintained even distribution in the plastic even when it was melted by the 3D printer. When they tested a 3D printed structure with hydrogen-storing MOFs, they found the 3D printed object had positive results.

3D printed ABS-MOF mixed structures

In fact, when the MOF plastic part was tested against a plastic-only part, they found that the MOF mixture retained more than 50 times the amount of hydrogen than the plastic-only part.

Being able to store this particular gas in plastic parts could have big advantages in the auto industry. As NIST sensor scientist Zeeshan Ahmed explained: “The auto industry is still looking for an inexpensive, lightweight way to store fuel in hydrogen-powered car. We’re hoping that MOFs in plastic might form the basis of the fuel tank.”

"The goal is to find a storage method that can hold 4.5 percent hydrogen by weight, and we've got a bit less than one percent now," Ahmed added. "But from a materials perspective, we don't need to make that dramatic an improvement to reach the goal. So we see the glass—or the plastic—as half full already."

The researchers have already published one study about the 3D printable MOF plastics, and are gearing up to publish a second paper on the topic which looks at how effectively certain MOFs can store hydrogen as well as nitrogen gas molecules.

This second study also reportedly addresses how to ensure the 3D printed plastic structures containing the MOFs do not erode or degrade in humidity. The researchers say they will continue working on the subject in collaboration with other NIST groups in the future.

The first research study, “Toward 3D printed hydrogen storage materials made with ABS-MOF composites,” was published in the journal Polymers for Advanced Technologies.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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