Mar 2, 2018 | By Tess

After devouring a big plate of seafood, you might be left with a dish of discarded shells. Not unreasonably, it would be sent straight to the garbage without much of a second thought. For one Dutch student, however, this same plate of empty shells was the source of inspiration for an innovative 3D printing project.

As a maritime country, the Netherlands has a big seafood industry and produces millions of mussels every year. These are consumed, but their shells are thrown away. Joost Vette, a student of Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft, saw this as an opportunity — an opportunity to develop a recycled 3D printing material made from mussel shells.

How, you ask? Well, Vette says it took some trial and error, but he eventually found a method for creating a ceramic-like paste from the shells that could be processed by a 3D printer.

TU Delft Student Joost Vette
(Image: Chris Reichard)

Starting with a batch of discarded mussel shells, Vette baked them in the oven to burn off any remaining meat and make the shells as brittle as possible. After that, he simply blended the shells until all that was left was a powder.

“If you heat the shells in the oven, it reduces any left-over meat and makes the shells very brittle,” he explained. “You can then blend them, even in a kitchen blender. One challenge was finding the right viscosity. The material has to come out of the nozzle easily, but not spread everywhere.”

(Image: Joost Vette)

In turning the shell powder into a printable paste, the TU Delft student experimented with a range of mixtures, including using different starches and even seaweed to find the right consistency. In the end, he found that sugar derived from sugar beets was the best solution to creating a smooth flowing shell paste.

Another interesting aspect of the shell-based material is that it can be recycled super easily. According to Vette, the printed material will dissolve easily when placed in water. “If you use the right amount of water, you can just pour the material back into the printer,” he said. “A lot of materials become weaker when recycled, this one does not.”

(Image: Joost Vette)

This means that any failed prints could be easily dissolved and fed back into a printer, resulting in a no-waste project. In terms of other applications, Vette envisions his shell material being used as part of the tourism industry in Zeeland, a seaside region in the Netherlands.

“There are a lot of projects to make tourism in Zeeland more circular,” Vette explains. “This material could be part of that. You could print lamp covers that—when broken—could be remade locally.”

(Image: Joost Vette)

He adds that the material could be used as a support material for other 3D printed projects because it is water-soluble.

Ultimately, Vette hopes his recycled and recyclable 3D printing material made from mussel shells will help bolster a local, circular economy in the Netherlands. “It enables local manufacturing, eliminating transportation costs,” he said. “Even better is if you can use local products and recycle them locally, closing the material loop.”

(Image: Joost Vette)



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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