Emulating ultrastructure of wood to create green products with 3D printing

Chalmers University of Technology

Team of researchers at the Sweden’s Chalmers University of Technology have created a 3D printing technology that resembles the ultrastructure of wood. This groundbreaking research would revolutionize the manufacturing of green products in the future.

According to reports, the study has developed a method to mimic the identical cellular structure of the wood. This could help in creating products that originate from trees: furniture, healthcare and personal care products, clothes, packaging, are a few to name.

The study highlights that the architecture or ultrastructure of wood cells is destroyed during processes that involve conversion of wood products. For instance, the process of paper, textile, and card; hamper the structure of wood cells. However, with the help of the new technology, wood can be processed in the shape of the final product by means of 3D printing or through genetic codes. This gives the material distinctive qualities such as toughness, torsional strength, and porosity.

Reports suggest that previous invention of conversion of wood pulp into nano-cellulose gel helped researchers to develop a special kind of ink which was beneficial for 3D print. However the new study has seen a major progression, it enables to digitize and interpret wood’s genetic code, by thus instructing the 3D printer.

This process allows the cellulose nanofibrils to control the printing process to attain the desired ultrastructure of wood. Through this process, the team can also control the orientation and shape of natural wood.

“This is a breakthrough in manufacturing technology. It allows us to move beyond the limits of nature, to create newly sustainable, green products. It means that those products which today are already forest-based can now be 3D printed, in a much shorter time. And the metals and plastics currently used in 3D printing can be replaced with a renewable, sustainable alternative,” commented Paul Gatenholm on the latest innovation. Gatenholm is the lead researcher at Wallenberg Wood Science Centre at Chalmers University.

The team is working on further advances; converting hemicellulose into nano-cellulose gel, developing prototypes for packaging, healthcare products, etc. are a few to name.