a team of researchers led by delft university of technology (TU delft) used 3D printing and algae to create a novel, eco-friendly, biodegradable, and living material. for the first-time-ever, researchers through different faculties utilized 3D-printers and an innovative bioprinting technique to deposit algae into living, photosynthetic materials that are resistant, tough, and flexible. in the past years, experts have supported that these materials that mimic nature are often the most robust ones.



the researchers began with non-living bacterial cellulose, an organic compound that is produced and excreted by bacteria. this combination of living (microalgae) and non-living (bacterial cellulose) components resulted in a unique material that has the photosynthetic quality of algae and the robustness of the bacterial cellulose.‘the printing of living cells is an attractive technology for the fabrication of engineered living materials.’ says marie-eve aubin-tam, an associate professor from the faculty of applied sciences. TU delft researchers use 3D printing to create a novel living material made of algaeimage courtesy of TU delft



bacterial cellulose has many mechanical features, such as flexibility, toughness, strength, and the ability to retain its shape under any circumstances. the whole progress is likened to the printing process; the bacterial cellulose act as the paper and the living microalgae as the ink. the plant-like nature of the material means it can use photosynthesis to ‘feed’ itself for many weeks, and it is also able to be regenerated, which means that a small sample of the material can be grown into more on-site.



‘we created a material that can produce energy simply by placing it into the light,’ says kui yu, a TU delft Ph.D. student. ‘the biodegradable nature of the material itself and the recyclable nature of microalgal cells make it a sustainable living material.’TU delft researchers use 3D printing to create a novel living material made of algaeimage courtesy of TU delft



the unique characteristics of the material make it an ideal candidate for a variety of applications, including new products such as artificial leaves. artificial leaves are materials that mimic actual leaves during photosynthesis, by converting water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy. the leaves store energy in chemical form as sugars, which can then be converted into fuels. furthermore, they offer a way to produce sustainable energy in places where plants don’t grow well, including outer space colonies. in contrast to most existing artificial leaf technologies, the artificial leaves produced by aubin-tam and her colleagues are free from toxic chemicals.



furthermore, the living cells in the materials can be used to sense and respond to cues in the environment; eventually enabling the development of a new class of photosynthetic and responsive living materials. ‘what if our everyday products were alive: could sense, grow, adapt, and eventually die? this unique collaborative project shows that this question is beyond the realm of speculative design,’ says elvin karana, from the faculty of industrial design engineering.

TU delft researchers use 3D printing to create a novel living material made of algaeimage by liz harrell, via unsplash



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created by: TU delft researchers