Clothes made from seaweed? Scientists use 3D printing technology to develop revolutionary fabric
ROCHESTER, NY – Algae isn’t the nicest substance to see when swimming in your local lake or pond. It turns out, however, that the bright green, mud-like plant might be hanging in your closet someday in the future. This is because scientists have used 3D printing technology to create clothes made from seaweed.
Plant tissue has a wide range of applications ranging from biodegradable clothing to artificial leaves capable of producing oxygen for space colonies, according to a new study. “Living materials”, which mimic those found in nature, have become increasingly popular in recent years because they are particularly resistant.
Now, scientists have created a hybrid material by combining living and non-living compounds, which can photosynthesize like plants, but are also hardy. The 3D printed fabric is environmentally friendly and could help industries reduce the amount of toxic chemicals they use and their carbon emissions, researchers say.
“Three-dimensional printing is a powerful technology for the fabrication of living functional materials that have enormous potential in a wide range of environmental and human applications,” says the study’s first author, Dr. Srikkanth Balasubramanian, of the University of Delft in the Netherlands, in a declaration. “We provide the first example of a designed photosynthetic material that is physically robust enough to be deployed in real-world applications. “
How algae can be made into a tough, wearable fabric
The researchers started with an organic compound, which is produced and excreted by bacteria, known as cellulose. Cellulose has many unique properties, including its flexibility, toughness, strength, and the ability to hold its shape, even when twisted or crushed. The researchers then used a 3D printer to deposit living algae on the cellulose, much like a regular printer injects ink into a page.
The combination of the two produced a unique material with the photosynthetic capacity of algae and the strength of cellulose. This meant that he could use sunlight to “feed” over periods of several weeks and regenerate by regrowing a small sample. Its unique capabilities make it a strong candidate for an application variometer, according to the researchers. These include artificial leaves, which, like the real deal, can convert water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy.
The leaves store energy in the form of sugar, which can in turn be converted into fuel. It could one day help grow plants in hostile places such as space colonies.
While most artificial leaves produce toxic chemicals, the researchers used only environmentally friendly materials.
“For artificial leaves, our materials are like taking the best parts of plants – the leaves, which can create sustainable energy, without needing to use resources to produce parts of plants like stems and roots that need resources, but do not produce energy, ” Explain co-author Dr Anne Meyer, University of Rochester. “We make a material that is focused solely on sustainable energy production. “
Innovative 3D printed “living material” offers a world of eco-friendly potential
The material could also be used to produce photosynthetic skin grafts, which help wounds heal. “The oxygen generated would help start healing in the damaged area, or it might be able to perform light-activated wound healing,” Meyer adds.
It could also help the fashion industry tackle some of the negative environmental effects associated with synthetic textiles and plastics. Clothing made from seaweed would be produced in a sustainable manner, 100% biodegradable and would not need to be washed as often, which would reduce water consumption.
“Our living materials are promising because they can survive for several days without access to water or nutrients, and the material itself can be used as a seed to grow new living materials,” adds the co-author, the Dr Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, also from the University of Delft. “This opens the door to applications in remote areas, even in space, where the material can be seeded on site. “
The results were published in the journal Advanced functional materials.
SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.