Plastic waste causes a lot of headaches for a wide range of organisations and governments. Proposed solutions usually note the need to decrease usage, however, a university in Singapore may have found another alternative. According to research by SUTD (Singapore University of Technology and Design), they may have cracked the code on biodegradeable plastic.
Javier Gomez Fernandez, assistant professor in the Singapore College of Technology is leading the project. He and his team at Fermart lab are hard at work on this environmental milestone. The aim is to create an effortlessly biodegradable material from the most prevalent organic compounds on the planet. In other words, they are aiming to create plastics out of cellulose and similar materials. However, the team went even further. They decided to combine chitin (the 2nd most abundant organic compound) and cellulose to produce a yeast-like additive material. They’ve dubbed the resulting material FLAM (Fungal-Like Additive Material).
“We have demonstrated that FLAM can be 3D printed or casted, as well as manufactured using common regular woodworking techniques(e.g. sawing, drilling, polishing…), and, what is more interesting, combinations of them,” Fernandez said.
Creating FLAM-based Biodegradeable Plastic
To print the fabric, they used a commercial robotic arm they fitted with an extruder and pressure tank. The first object printed using the material would be a wind generator blade calculating 1.2 meters long. Despite its size, using 3D printing made it feasible to turn the inner core from the component lighter and with ventilation. The 3D-printed core in the video has two halves that require gluing together and sanding for a smooth finish. The end result was 50 % hollow and only 5.28 kg.
Plastic consumption and disposal is one of the top hazards in modern environmental science. While FLAM production does provide a great blue-print for a solution, but it is far from economical at this stage. Also, oomycete materials aren’t well characterised when it comes to mechanical qualities. At larger scales it becomes difficult to produce. However, Fernandez does think that even industries like aerospace and also the auto industry could produce non-structural parts utilizing a “cheap, low density and fully natural composite” like FLAM, with a density of just .37 gr/cm3. Materials like FLAM may yet have a prominent place in the future.
Featured image courtesy of Nature.