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Researchers 3D printing polymers decomposed using salt

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Texas A&M University researchers are using 3D printing and salt to create environmentally friendly polymers that break down over time. Author: Texas A&M Engineering

Dr. Emily Pentzer, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University, is making 3D-printed polymers more environmentally friendly with a process that allows the polymers to naturally degrade over time. Pentzer’s research is a collaboration between researchers from the Texas A&M College of Engineering, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station, the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry and Kashmir University.


The study was published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

“Our goal was to create stable, biodegradable polymer structures,” Pentzer said. “We did this by using the microstructures provided by chemistry combined with the macrostructures provided by 3D printing.”

Most commercial synthetic polymers consist of large molecules which do not decompose under normal conditions. Manufactured objects left in the environment such as Styrofoam cups or plastic containers disintegrate into small pieces that cannot be seen with the naked eyebut the long polymer molecules remain present forever.

“It’s not just a plastic bottle that gets kicked out on the road,” Pentzer said. “These materials break down into microplastics that remain in the environment. We don’t fully understand the impact of microplastics, but it has been shown to carry disease, heavy metals and fecal bacteria.”

To break down the polymers, Pentzer collaborated with Dr. Don Darrensburg, a distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M, to use carbon dioxide and table salt to create the ink used in 3D printing process. After printing, the design is washed with water to dissolve the salt and harden the structure. Although the structure continues to look smooth on the outside, the process creates thousands of tiny pores that allow the chemical compounds to decompose at a faster rate.

“Under the right conditions, the polymers we created actually break down quickly,” Pentzer said. “Ideally, they’ll break down into small molecules that aren’t toxic. Those smaller molecules won’t be able to carry things like heavy metals or bacteria.”

As research progresses, Pentzer hopes to use the process to create packaging materials so things like boxes and duct tape can break down quickly rather than sit in a landfill for years. She also sees a bright future for 3D-printed polymers in biomedicine.

“These materials can be used for a variety of biomedical applications,” Pentzer said. “Things like implant frameworks that degrade over time so your body can heal, but you won’t have that piece of plastic forever.”

Through her interdisciplinary studiesPentzer is committed to solving a global problem that can affect the environment, human health, biomedicine, and nearly every aspect of human existence.

“It’s kind of like combining science with engineering,” Pentzer said. “Working together, we can create synergy and achieve much more.”

Additional information:
Peyron Wei et al. Triblock copolymers based on CO 2 3D printing and post-printing modification, Angewandte Chemie International Edition (2022). DOI: 10.1002/anie.202208355

Citation: Researchers 3D print degradable polymers with salt (2022, October 31) Retrieved October 31, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-10-3d-degradable-polymers-salt. html

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