Scientists 3D print chemically active structures that could help fight pollution

Apr 4, 2016 | By Tess

A team of researchers from the American University in Washington D.C. have successfully managed to 3D print chemically active structures using a commercial 3D printer, a development which could have a big impact on mitigating pollution.

The study, which details the research process of the 3D printed chemically active structures, was published earlier today in Science and Technology of Advanced Materials and is called “The chemical, mechanical, and physical properties of 3D printed materials composed of TiO2-ABS nanocomposites”.

The project, led by chemistry professor Matthew Hartings, effectively shows how a commercial 3D printer can be used to create a 3D printed structure with an active chemistry that could help break down pollutant particles. To explain further, the American University researchers created a design for a small structure, about the size of a handheld sponge, which they additively manufactured using a 3D thermoplastic printer. For the print itself, the researchers used a standard ABS plastic filament, but added nanoparticles of a chemically active titanium dioxide (TiO2) throughout it, that were effectively printed into the sponge-like matrix structure.

TiO2, also known as titania, is an naturally occurring oxide of titanium which is used in a wide range of applications, including sunscreen and cosmetics, food colorings, and paints. What is particularly notable about the chemical formula is its ability to break down pollutant particles when it interacts with natural light, meaning it could potentially be used in controlling and mitigating pollution in the air, water, and in agriculture.

Considering this, Hartings and his team of scientists set out to determine whether nanoparticles of TiO2 would still be active if they were 3D printed with plastic filament into a structure, and whether their pollutant combating properties would still be viable after this process. To test this, the team of researchers placed the 3D printed structure into water and subsequently added an organic molecule, or pollutant, to the water. After testing the water, the researchers found that the pollutant was effectively destroyed by the matrix structure, meaning that the TiO2 nanoparticles did remain active.

Hartings explains of the potentials of 3D printing chemically active structures, “It’s not just pollution, but there are all sorts of other chemical processes that people may be interested in. There are a variety of nanoparticles one could add to a polymer to print.”

While the research marks an impressive first in the 3D printing world and demonstrates the potentials of 3D printing chemically active materials, there are of course still a number of limitations to the bourgeoning field. For instance, as the study points out, the concentration of nanoparticles of the active ingredient needs to remain below 10% of the total mass structure of the object to be 3D printed. To be most chemically effective, however, the structure would need a higher concentration than 10%.

So far, the team of researchers from the American University in Washington D.C. have only worked with simple 3D printed structures and shapes, though they will soon use additive manufacturing to create more complex geometries and shapes to see what effect the printed structure might have on the material’s chemical reactivity. They are hoping to ultimately find an optimal geometric structure to use in breaking down harmful environmental pollutants.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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