July 15, 2015 | By Alec

At some point or another, we all begin to look for more 3D printing options during our making career, as the characteristics of PLA can be a bit limited while ABS is bad for the environment. While there are a lot of interesting 3D printable filaments out there, one Italian startup is now bringing an interesting alternative to the table: hemp filament. Startup Kanèsis, founded by Giovanni Milazzo and Antonio Caruso, has already filed a patent for their remarkable, all natural and 100% biodegradable hemp filament and is planning to make it commercially available in the next few months.

While the very idea of hemp might be very controversial for some, it is actually a very interesting manufacturing option for the making community. While there are lots of negative connotations associated with hemp, the cannabis drug is actually a recent and unusual part of the hemp family. The vast majority of hemp plants contain negligible levels of the THC component that gets you high, and these have been used as a prominent manufacturing material for centuries. Cloth, rope, oils, waxes, paper, fuel, mulch – all have been commonly made from hemp just a century ago, as the material is durable, multifunctional, natural and even edible.

While the anti-drug lobby and competition from tobacco, synthetic and pharmaceutical companies has largely destroyed this very sensible application of hemp in the early twentieth century, this Italian startup is now seeking to bring it back into the manufacturing realm. But more than that, as they write on their website, Kanèsis is to be a starting point for a new mindset about how we as a species impact the world around us. And hemp, as a renewable, natural and harmless manufacturing component, is a good place to start.

To soothe the worried readers, Kanèsis is also in no way trying to promote drug use and don’t want to be associated with cannabis smokers in any way. Instead, the focus is completely on manufacturing. As the Sicilian cofounder and engineering materials student Giovanni Milazzo explains, this startup was born out of a love for the planet and a frustration with how easy hemp was forced out of the manufacturing world. ‘While studying and being keen to materials, I discovered that hemp was a theoretically extraordinary material, that unfortunately fell into disuse in practice because the population was misinformed on a large scale to suit the interests of large corporations. All this together with my soul green have created Kanèsis,’ he says.


And in terms of manufacturing, hemp is looking very good. ‘The thermoplastic that comes mainly from the residues of our hemp processing, has the same properties of petrochemical plastics. For example, it is similar to polypropylene (the plastic used for the bottle caps), but is lighter, in addition to being biodegradable, compostable, rigid and absolutely 100% green. And last but not least, it also has a good level elasticity,’ Milazzo explains. Aside from that, it is also durable after processing, while remaining lightweight and has excellent physical and chemical resistance levels.

An object being 3D printed in hemp.

These characteristics, he says, make it perfect 3D printing. ‘Before creating this material we have have done extensive market research. 95% of the 3D printing market currently uses a biodegradable plastic called PLA (polylactic acid), which has a much higher price than petrochemical plastic, at around 5 euro per kilo. This is a considerable advantage of our product, for in addition to being completely natural, we are looking at a very advantageous price compared to PLA at about 2.5 Euros per kilogram,’ Milazzo explains in an interview.

Some examples of 3D printed hemp items.

But being a completely natural and edible component, also makes their hemp product far more applicable than various plastics. ‘It may use, for example, for the packaging of food products and the like. The World Health Organization has already found that the plastics in contact with food and liquids may release toxic substances,’ he tells an interviewer. ‘For example in 2011 they banned polycarbonate baby bottles because, when subject to changing temperatures, the plastics could release dioxins into the drinks. Water bottles in general can only be used for about 18 months, as they start releasing toxic materials after that period. Expiration dates on water bottles don’t concern the water, but the plastic bottle.’

A wheel of hemp filament.

So what’s the plan for brining hemp to the world of 3D printing? The Italian startup has already filed a patent application for a 3D printable thermoplastic material, obtained from the waste materials of three plants (of which hemp is the main component. For the rest of the year, Milazzo and Caruso will be largely busy with lobbying. ‘At a European level, some of the manufacturing laws will change in 2015, forcing many companies – particularly in the automotive industry – to switch to more bio-plastics. This is a huge opportunity for us,’ Milazzo explains.

In 3D printing terms, they are hoping to start a crowdfunding campaign in the fall and then to release a filament in January 2016 that will be able to compete with ABS blow by blow, but more steps will follow after that. ‘We already have several agreements with companies from across Europe to produce bottles, glasses, gifts and more. But for us this is only a very first step towards the total replacement of oil,’ he adds.

Before that becomes a reality, however, a large number of physical and chemical tests – as well as a large number of bureaucratic hurdles – are scheduled for the coming months. It is, in short, a very busy time for the Kanèsis startup, but it will be well worth keeping an eye on them. A good place to start would be at a conference and expo in Milan on August 8-12 next month, when they will officially unveil their product. Check them out if you’re in the neighborhood.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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