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SelfEco Breaks Down PLA: Making 3D Printing Eco-friendly

by • March 3, 2016 • No Comments

Polylactic acid or PLA has brought 3D printing nearer to full green sustainability in new years. When utilized as a filament in 3D printing, PLA eliminates many of the issues brought of by common petro-based plastics, resulting in less waste, non-toxic products, and reduced negative effect on the environment. PLA has become an increasingly talked about choice for 3D printing material. Let’s have a appear at the system of Plant to PLA filament.

PLA is the same type of plastic utilized in building environmentally friendly disposable cups and utensils labeled “compostable” or “made of corn.” It is produced of renewable crops such as corn, sugarcane, or tapioca, and is being widely utilized nowadays as a safe, non-toxic, biodegradable, and eco-conscious material in medical implants, packaging, hygiene products, upholstery, injection molding, and additional.

From Humble Plant to 3D Work of Art

PLA is rapidly becoming the material of choice in the 3D printing community—projected to overtake ABS in the following few years—in part for the reason of its low toxicity and environmentally friendly properties. But to become a green innovation, PLA initially needs to be made of plants. Here’s a swift tutorial to the PLA production system (Infographics courtesy of Selfeco/Green Design, MIT – Institute of Design):

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 1Step 1: The type of crop to use in the production of PLA is selected based on its abundance and economic feasibility in its region.

  • USA and Canada – corn (starch)
  • Asia – tapioca (roots, chips, or starch)
  • Rest of the world – sugarcane, wheat, or potatoes

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 2Step 2: The crop is milled, and a easy sugar is extracted and stored for fermentation.

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 3Step 3: Microorganisms are added into the sugar solution, undergoing homolactic fermentation and turning it into lactic acid.

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 4Step 4: Upo

n purification via the removal of excess water in a vacuum or through azeotropic distillation, the two molecules of lactic acid form a compound called lactide.

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 5Step 5: Raw PLA is created (called “polymerization”) upon adding a metal catalyst (typically tin octoate), enabling the lactide to form a long chain consisting of thousands of polymers linked together.

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 6Step 6: Manufacturers may add FDA-approved dyes to the strands for color. PLA is the popular 3D printing filament of hobbyists, schools, and home printing equipment for the reason of the wide variety of colors which are available—including neon, translucent, and high gloss.

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 7Step 7: PLA may be turned into pellets which can and so be molded into numerous biodegradable items such as textiles, foodservice packaging, and disposable tableware. For 3D printing or Futilized Deposition Modeling (FDM) purposes, the PLA is woven into filament form and injure around a spool.

Selfeco:Green Design, MIT - Institute of Design PLA system for 3D printing step 8Step 8: Upon reaching end-of-life depolymerization or decay, PLA can be recovered and easily converted back into lactic acid—which and so starts a new cycle of PLA production.

PLA is slated to become actually additional low-cost and greener as new production techniques via zeolite as a catalyst have been created to eliminate the metals utilized and waste produced in current PLA systeming, resulting in higher yields of lactide. The innovation has been patented and is eager to be ramped up for use on an industrial scale.


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