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Sustainable materials development is a major line of research within the additive manufacturing industry. While 3D printing uses many materials, the most prominent ones (i.e. thermoplastics) are quite environmentally damaging. To curb this problem, MIT’s Mediated Matter lab may have found a possible solution. Their Aguahoja project allows for the printing sustainable, water-based biopolymer composites and structures. The team also built various constructs to show off the versatility of these materials.

The Mediated Matter lab combined and compounded the materials using high spatial resolutions to create highly tuneable, biodegradable composites. These composites are a mix of some very common materials, using cellulose, chitosan, pectin and calcium carbonate. As a result, the Aguahoja base components are readily available and easily dissolvable.

Aguahoja: MIT Lab Prints Water-based Biopolymer Construct

The 5 meter tall structure that the researchers built consists of organic matter printed by a robot and shaped with water. It’s not just sustainable but it also modulates its stiffness and other physical properties in response to heat and humidity. Its various layers give it a range of textures, transparencies and rigidities, acting as a sort of layered skin. In fact, human skin was a major inspiration for the project.

The best part is that the materials comprising the Aguahoja pavilion are tunable so as to serve various functions and purposes. They are adaptable composites, especially considering that the materials they are made of can be found in such diverse species, ranging from plants to crustaceans. For example, Chitlin can comprise exoskeletons or even fungal cells, giving it a vast range of capabilities.

Building With Sustainable Biopolymers

As the Mediated Matter team explains: “The Aguahoja I platform is comprised of a robotic gantry for 3D printing biomaterials where shape and material composition are directly informed by physical properties (e.g., stiffness and opacity), environmental conditions (e.g., load, temperature, and relative humidity), and fabrication constraints (e.g., degrees-of-freedom, arm speed, and nozzle pressure), among others.”

Matching the ethos of the project, the Aguahoja pavilion is only around temporarily. As the team planned, disposing of it is as easy as leaving it in water, making it dissipate into the environment. This could allow for plastics that can dissolve in the rain, making waste disposal far easier. It can turn to its base components and return to the ecosystem.

The Aguahoja I pavilion, which MIT unveiled in February 2018 at the MIT Media Lab Lobby, is just the beginning. Their next installation, Aguahoja II, is due to make its mark on May 10, 2019 at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Hopefully, this sort of project can usher in new designs with sustainable and eco-friendly materials.

Featured image courtesy of MIT.

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