MAY 06, 2021 9:17 AM PDT

New 3D printed biomaterial paves the way for artificial leaves

A study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials highlights a new bioprinting technique that can be used to 3D-print algae into living materials. The research comes from a team of scientists from the University of Rochester and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands who intend to disrupt the energy, fashion, and medical industries with their biomimetic and photosynthetic materials.

"Three-dimensional printing is a powerful technology for fabrication of living functional materials that have a huge potential in a wide range of environmental and human-based applications." says first author Srikkanth Balasubramanian, who is a postdoctoral research associate at Delft. "We provide the first example of an engineered photosynthetic material that is physically robust enough to be deployed in real-life applications."

The material is composed of two parts. The first is the “paper,” which is a non-living bacterial cellulose that boasts a range of important mechanical properties, such as flexibility, toughness, strength, and ability to retain its shape. The second part, the “ink,” is the living microalgae that is printed onto the bacterial cellulose. The outcome is a material that is both photosynthetic (from the algae) and tough (from the cellulose), as well as biodegradable. “The plant-like nature of the material means it can use photosynthesis to ‘feed’ itself over periods of many weeks, and it is also able to be regenerated -- a small sample of the material can be grown on-site to make more materials,” reports Science Daily.

The research team says that the material could be used in products like photosynthetic bio-garments, artificial leaves, or even photosynthetic skins. "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 -- the stems and the roots -- that need resources but don't produce energy," says Anne S. Meyer, an associate professor of biology at Rochester. "We are making a material that is only focused on the sustainable production of energy."

"Our living materials are promising because they can survive for several days with no water or nutrients access, and the material itself can be used as a seed to grow new living materials," says Delft associate professor of nanoscience Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam. "This opens the door to applications in remote areas, even in space, where the material can be seeded on site."

Sources: Advanced Functional Materials, Science Daily

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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