Industrial robots to 3D print green construction materials

3D print
The process will use biomass materials containing lignin and cellulose. (Image: Ochir-Erdene Oyunmedeg / Unsplash)

A project to develop 3D-printed construction materials that self-repair and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has been awarded $2m (£1.6m).

Scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) and Purdue University are developing the “living materials” thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation in the US.

The construction materials will be made from sustainable biomass such as agricultural waste. They will contain microbes that absorb CO2, as well as making polymers and minerals to increase the material’s strength.

Industrial-sized robots will 3D print the construction materials for homes and other structures.

Jinxing Li, an assistant professor at MSU who leads the project, said: “To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change, there is strong demand for sustainable materials.

“That’s really forcing us to think about how we make everything. We need to find new ways to make our buildings, as both the current construction materials and the construction process are big contributors to our carbon footprint.”

Simple idea

Li described the project as “high-risk, high-reward”. He added: “It’s a simple idea. Basically, ‘let’s engineer microbes to build better materials for us’. That’s like 10 words but, with all the science and reasoning that goes into it, our research plan was closer to 15 pages.”

Researchers will focus on creating new inks from sustainable biomass such as agricultural waste. Biomass contains lignin and cellulose that create structural fortitude at a microscopic scale.

The next step will be to add microscopic fungi and bacteria to the ink that can make the polymers and minerals. As the materials age and become stressed and exhibit microcracks, the microbes will heal the damage and, as part of that process, take carbon out of the atmosphere.

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