Dec 21, 2018 | By Cameron

Manufacturing with plant-based materials has become increasingly popular in recent years, with PLA (polylactic acid) leading the way in the 3D printing space. But a new entrant may be hitting the market soon: lignin. Found in the cell walls of vascular plants, lignin is a complex organic polymer that lends wood and bark their rigidity. Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that mixing lignin with nylon made it printable on an FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printer.

Lignin is a byproduct of biorefinery processes that extract fuel and chemicals from biomass, so finding more uses for it would be a huge value add to various industries, as project lead Amit Naskar points out, "Finding new uses for lignin can improve the economics of the entire biorefining process."

Lignin does not have the favorable melt characteristics of popular thermoplastics like ABS and PLA; it gets more viscous when heated, preventing it from extruding well. When combined with nylon, however, lignin’s melt viscosity decreased dramatically. The lignin-nylon composite has tensile strength similar to nylon alone but with a lower viscosity than ABS. By analyzing the 3D prints with neutron scattering at the High Flux Isotope Reactor and advanced microscopy at the Center for Nanophase Materials Science, the researchers discovered that adding nylon “appeared to have almost a lubrication or plasticizing effect on the composite."

Their samples included up to 50% lignin by weight, a record in the realm of experimenting with the organic polymer. Carbon fiber was later added to the composite, improving its heating characteristics, increasing print speed, and making parts stronger. The lignin-nylon composite is patent pending, but the print quality on the samples indicates that either the print settings need to be adjusted or the composite needs a bit more refinement before mass production.

"ORNL's world-class capabilities in materials characterization and synthesis are essential to the challenge of transforming byproducts like lignin into coproducts, generating potential new revenue streams for industry and creating novel renewable composites for advanced manufacturing," said Moe Khaleel, associate laboratory director for Energy and Environmental Sciences. The algae, coffee, beer, and other biomaterial filaments have been really fun to 3D print, and people can better appreciate sustainable manufacturing when they can hold a thing in their hands that’s made of what would otherwise be considered waste, so another plant-based option will be welcomed by the 3D printing community.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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pizzaslice wrote at 12/22/2018 4:46:47 PM:

A pure lignin filmanent seems useful, I don't see the added value of creating a lignin-nylon composite and it is not outlined. I do see some researchers who are spending a lot of money on research and now are blocking further research with a patent, which is also expensive, OMG. Meanwhile I will be using PLA; Thank you!

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