3D Printing

Algae-based future clothes

Environmentally friendly material made of algae that has applications in energy, medicine, fashion etc.

June 7, 2021
The Scitech

A mini-T-shirt demonstrates the photosynthetic living materials created in the lab of Rochester biology professor Anne S. Meyer using 3D printers and a new bioink technique. (University of Rochester photo)

For the first time, researchers at the University of Rochester and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used 3D printers and a novel bioprinting technique to print algae into living, photosynthetic materials that are tough and resilient. The material has a variety of applications in the energy, medical, and fashion sectors. The research is published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials. “Three-dimensional printing has shown to be an effective technology for fabricating living materials that have many environmental and other benefits,” says Anne S. Meyer, an associate professor of biology at Rochester. “Our photosynthetic living materials are a huge step forward for the field since they are the first example of an engineered photosynthetic material that is physically robust enough to be deployed for real-world applications.” The work to develop a biologically based material is the latest in a series of research efforts led by Meyer’s lab. Meyer and her research team have been leaders in using bacteria to develop such industrially important materials as artificial nacre and graphene.

To create the photosynthetic materials, the researchers began with a nonliving bacterial cellulose—an organic compound that is produced and excreted by bacteria. Bacterial cellulose has many important mechanical properties, including flexibility, toughness, strength, and ability to retain its shape, even when twisted, crushed, or otherwise physically distorted. The bacterial cellulose is like the paper in a printer, while living microalgae acts as the ink. Meyer and her colleagues used a 3D printer to deposit living algae onto the bacterial cellulose. The combination of living (microalgae) and nonliving (bacterial cellulose) components resulted in a unique material that has the photosynthetic quality of the algae and the robustness of the bacterial cellulose; the material is tough and resilient while also eco-friendly, biodegradable, and simple and scalable to produce. The plant-like nature of the material means it can use photosynthesis to “feed” itself over periods of many weeks, and it’s also able to be regenerated—a small sample of the material can be grown onsite to make more materials. The characteristics of the material make it an ideal candidate for a variety of applications, including new products such as artificial leaves, photosynthetic skins, or photosynthetic bio-garments.

Source: Rochester University news release