The most popular material in 3D printing is PLA (polylactic acid). It’s a bioplastic made from renewable sources like corn starch and sugarcane, and it has excellent 3D printing characteristics (low melting temperature, consistent flow, minimal shrinkage, high rigidity).
Bioplastics are on the rise due to the improved PR image associated with their renewable qualities, and Advanced BioCarbon 3D (ABC3D) out of British Columbia is expanding the bioplastic bandwagon to encourage more industrial users to jump on.
In an effort to prevent climate change, Hélène Bélanger and Ross Prestidge founded ABC3D to develop engineering-grade 3D printable bioplastics that have negative carbon footprints from the resins found in trees. Extracting resin from trees isn’t particularly new, but it’s the quality of the resin that distinguishes ABC3D other manufacturers. CEO Darrel Fry related, “People often think of bioplastics as single-use with low-value functionality, but our products are incredibly high-functioning with exceptionally high heat resistance while being lightweight. As an example, our goal is to be able to 3D print something like a piston for your car from this material – there’s such high heat resistance, and it’s also very strong.”
Their bioplastic is the result of a multi-step process best explained by environmental scientist Kim Klassen, “The process uses green chemistry and starts with wood chips from the forest industry that are mixed with a solvent and put through a series of pressurized heating and cooling phases to extract the resin from the wood chips. All solvent from the manufacturing process is put back into the system to be reused again.”
The wood chips are sourced from hardwoods deemed unusable by forestry companies that still have to cut them down, so it’s a value add to the forest and plastic industries. “There currently is no viable market for those hardwood trees,” said Fry. “We’re actually helping to create a new market for fibre. The cost to the forestry companies is already there to cut down and process unwanted species, so what we’re saying is, they’ll still have those costs, but now they’ll have an opportunity where they can continue to harvest that tree, take it out of the forest, and bring it to market.”
While the results aren’t currently available, the performance of the plastics has been tested by the National Research Centre Industrial Materials Institute (NRC-IMI). “The feedback from them is that they were happy with the results they received from their testing,” Fry commented. “The project results, in their words, were, ‘well above their expectations.’”
ABC3D expects to have their filament available for retail purchase in the first quarter of 2019, and they have plans to offer carbon fiber and magnetic variants available soon thereafter. “Our company is proving that from wood we can make sustainable, economical, high performance plastics,” Fry said.