Making new functional polymers for 3-D printers

October 19, 2016 by Anne Rahilly
Making new functional polymers for 3D printers
New directions in 3D technology- filaments produced by hot-melt extrusion. Credit: University of Melbourne

Chemical engineers at the University of Melbourne have found a way to 3-D print smart polymers (or plastics) that can perform a function, in a way that is cheaper, cleaner and more accessible than ever before.

These smart and functional polymers that are being produced by Dr Luke Connal and his team from the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering are not the inert objects, we are used to associating with 3-D printed objects, but are built to undertake a chemical reaction, so that they can perform a function in a particular environment.

One example, of an application for such an object could be to clean up .

"We have developed interesting materials that can be printed on the more affordable range of 3-D printers, like the ones you can buy in hardware shops these days," said Dr Connal.

"Basically we are trying to add function to these 3-D printed objects. Rather than just having a inanimate printed object, we are creating something that you can do something else with," he said.

In the paper "Three Dimensional Printing of pH-Responsive and Functional Polymers on an Affordable Desktop Printer," published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces this week, Connal and PhD students Milena Nadgorny, Chao Chen and PostDoc Fellow Dr. Zeyun Xiao, outline other potential areas for future applications of these new materials.

One such example is accelerating a chemical reaction by adding a catalyst for treatment of environmental pollutants and flow control

PhD student Milena Nadgorny brings her expertise in inkjet printing to the research. Her previous studies in chemical engineering and materials science, blended with industry experience working with HP, have allowed her to tackle some of the problems she has encountered with this research in a multidisciplinary way.

"We dreamt this up and Milena started it. Our expertise is making polymers. We saw the opportunity to make polymers that change shape or change properties with a trigger and we set out to develop methods to feed these polymers into a 3-D Printer," Dr Connal said.

The project is challenging from both the synthesis and production side of creating the material, to the printing side, ensuring that the material has the right shape and complex properties to carry out its function, as well as being 3-D printable.

A filament must first be produced, which can be fed into the printer, melted and 3-D printed. There are a lot of challenges in the chemistry and the properties of making the filament, determining the thermal properties aside with optimising the production conditions to make it printable.

"Very few scientists have dealt with this problem, because it is quite challenging. Our paper is one of the few in the field," Ms Nadgorny said.

The smart polymers could be used in a few ways. A flow regulation device has been made, which consists of a polymer valve that opens and closes to control the flow rate of water, dependent upon the pH of the water flowing through it.

The second is a catalytic device that can remove an environmental pollutant from water. In the experiment conducted, the 3-D printed polymer catalyst is placed in a yellow (contaminated) solution, which turns clear over time, when the toxic substance has been neutralised.

"This is early research for us in the area of functional polymers and 3-D printing and we believe there is scope to further develop the work and to partner with industry in creating novel solutions with these new smart materials," Dr Connal said.

Explore further: Going beyond 3-D printing to add a new dimension for additive manufacturing

More information: Milena Nadgorny et al. Three-Dimensional Printing of pH-Responsive and Functional Polymers on an Affordable Desktop Printer, ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2016). DOI: 10.1021/acsami.6b07388

Related Stories

Researchers print inside gels to create unique shapes

September 30, 2015

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at the University of Florida has taken the technique of printing objects inside of a gel a step further by using a highly shear-rate sensitive gel. In their paper published in the journal ...

Recommended for you

Close up view of growing polymer chain show jump steps

October 20, 2017

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers at Cornell University has devised a means for watching as a polymer chain grows after application of a catalyst. In their paper published in the journal Science, the team explains how they ...

The birth of a new protein

October 20, 2017

A yeast protein that evolved from scratch can fold into a three-dimensional shape—contrary to the general understanding of young proteins—according to new research led by the University of Arizona.

Discovery lights path for Alzheimer's research

October 19, 2017

A probe invented at Rice University that lights up when it binds to a misfolded amyloid beta peptide—the kind suspected of causing Alzheimer's disease—has identified a specific binding site on the protein that could facilitate ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.