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Researchers Make ABS-like Plastics from Spinach and Rice

on Aug 27 2014 , 06:00:33

According to industry analyst firm SmarTech Markets Publishing, the market for PLA, ABS and other 3D printing plastics will be worth over $1.4 billion by 2019. That’s billion with a b. The problem with this is that 3D printing plastics tend to be fairly bad for the environment. Although PLA, or polyactic acid, is biodegradable, ABS, a petroleum-based plastic, is not. Despite PLA being much better for the environment, ABS is generally favored for 3D printing as it is more flexible, durable and has a higher temperature resistance.

We’ve heard of a few existing companies around the world trying to make ethical, environmentally-friendly filament. Examples include the Indian company ProtoPrint, which employs waste pickers to recycle plastic waste into printer filament,  and Jiangsu Jinghe Hi-tech, a Chinese company that developed a filament material made from a specific type of crop in China. Even industry leader 3D Systems hopped on the bandwagon with its plastic-recycling Ekocycle printer. But who knew the answer to greener filament could have been right in your backyard?

A team of researchers at the Italian Institute of Technology has found a way to create 3D printer filament from vegetables, specifically rice, parsley and spinach. Cocoa plants are also being studied.


Using an organic, naturally occurring acid called Trifluoroacetic acid (TFA) the researchers managed to produce cellulose, the main substance that provides plants with strength and flexibility. They then mixed the cellulose with the vegetables mentioned above. When the components were combined, films with various attributes began to form after a few days. Some films were rigid and brittle, while others were softer and more flexible. They all had one thing in common however – they behaved very much like ABS petroleum-based plastic.

The researching team, comprised of researchers Ilker S. Bayer, Susana Guzman-Puyol, Luca Ceseracciu, Jose Alejandro Heredia-Guerrero, Francesca Pignatelli, Roberta Ruffilli, Roberto Cingolani and Athanassia Athanassiou, hopes to see the material become the core ingredient in filament spools in the not-too-distant future. Their findings are published in the ACS Publications journal MacroMolecules.

If plant-based filaments can replace petroleum-based filaments like ABS, SmarTech Markets’ study might not hold true. If this is the case and options for comparable yet environmentally-friendly filament keep increasing, ABS and PLA manufacturers and distributors may have to shift their focus in order to stay relevant.

Shanie Phillips is a originally from the UK, but has spent many years in Singapore, the US and now Israel. In addition to writing for Inside3DP she writes for several news and innovation sites.

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