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Research team develops new 3D printing resin that could revolutionize this rapidly growing industry: 'Recycling becomes a built-in feature'

The research team has already completed two "recycles" of the material — and it believes more cycles are possible.

The research team has already completed two "recycles" of the material — and it believes more cycles are possible.

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Imagine if the plastic parts and products we use every day could simply be broken down and rebuilt again and again, in an almost fully closed loop. Thanks to researchers at the University of Birmingham, this sustainable vision is one step closer to reality.

The research team has created an innovative new 3D printing resin made from bio-sourced materials that can be efficiently recycled, according to Interesting Engineering. Unlike traditional 3D printing resins made from planet-heating petrochemicals, this eco-friendly alternative opens the door to a more sustainable future for this rapidly growing industry.

So, what exactly makes this new resin so groundbreaking?

The key lies in a fatty acid molecule called lipoic acid, which is often sold as a natural dietary supplement. By combining two monomers derived from lipoic acid, the researchers formulated a resin that can be recycled back into its original monomers or directly into pure lipoic acid, as Interesting Engineering explained based on the researchers' study in the journal Nature.

In layperson's terms, this means that once a 3D printed product made with this resin reaches the end of its useful life, it can be efficiently broken down into its basic building blocks to create something new. The research team has already demonstrated this by completing two "recycles" of the material — and it believes more cycles are possible, per the news outlet.

While some efforts have been made to develop more sustainable 3D printing resins using biomass in the past, they still rely on irreversible chemical bonds. In contrast, this lipoic acid-based solution provides a truly renewable and recyclable alternative to petroleum-based resins, which have sadly remained the industry standard since the 1980s.

"We now have the prospect, with our technology, to help ensure that recycling becomes a built-in feature of 3D printing," assistant professor and project co-lead Josh Worch told Interesting Engineering.

This is a crucial step, as 3D printing continues expanding into more industries.

Though this resin is still an early-stage version, the researchers see huge potential for it to support more planet-friendly rapid prototyping as well as the production of everything from auto parts to medical devices. They are actively working to further enhance the resin's properties to make it viable for an even wider range of applications, Interesting Engineering reported.

By supporting the development of an innovative material that is recyclable by design, this team is helping to shape a future wherein projects that use this technology will become even more eco-friendly. Using 3D printers for new house builds, for example, already helps reduce material waste and harmful pollution from the construction industry in addition to costs. 

For consumers, the prospect of high-quality, eco-friendly 3D printed products on store shelves is now that much closer on the horizon — and that's a win-win for your wallet and the planet.

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