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Cellulose: The New 3D Printing Material of Choice

Better Than Plastics or Metal

3D printing materials are becoming diverse now. They are not just out of plastic or metal. Materials are being created from all sorts of natural substances such as algae and coffee grounds. A recent material being heavily studied for 3D printing is cellulose.

What is cellulose?

Cellulose is the most abundant organic polymer on earth, secreted by certain bacteria types. It is found in wood, cotton, cellophane, and in fiber that humans consume and eat. It is an insoluble substance, the main constituent of plant cell walls and of vegetable fibers. It is a polysaccharide consisting of chains of glucose monomers. As a 3D printing material to replace plastics, cellulose is more sustainable and environmentally friendly. In a crystalline structure, there can be hundreds to thousands of glucose units.

UPM Biocomposites, a division of biomaterials company UPM, is launching a new biocomposite 3D printing material made from cellulose fiber. UPM is a forest-based bio-industry company providing sustainable and safe solutions to the growing global consumption demand for renewable and recyclable products. UPM Biocomposites developed the material in pellet form that can be used to develop filament for 3D printing. The material has a matte finish with a natural feel and can be produced in light and dark colors.

Advantages of Cellulose Material

Cellulose can flow smoothly through small nozzles, print with fine detail. It is fast cooling and with low shrinkage rate, improving dimensional stability, hence, good for large format 3D printing. It doesn’t require supports, even for complex or round objects. It can be post- processed like wood, with fine sanding, can reduce paint absorption and can be easily glued with PVAC.

In the effort to 3D print with materials better for the environment and healthier for people doing the printing, 3D printing materials that are from natural sources are sought after. The cellulose produced by UPM Biocomposites, which they combine with PLA or polylactic acid or polylactide, a biodegradable plastic, is safe and offers characteristics superior to conventional 3D printing filament, such as better adhesion. The material is produced and sold in granule form, allowing for 3D printing with large-scale pellet systems or for 3D printing materials producers to make filament.