Turning agricultural biowaste into high-value 3D-printing materials

(Nanowerk Spotlight) Bagasse is an agro-industrial residue with major potential for several high-value products. This statement was the starting point for a close cooperation between RISE PFI (Norway) and Instituto de Materiales de Misiones (IMAM, Argentina). In 2015, they started an initiative about utilizing bagasse in an unconventional way, that is as a resource for 3D printing, and started the process that led to the ValBio-3D project “Valorization of residual biomass for advanced 3D materials”.
"The sugarcane industry in South America is huge, specially in Argentina and Brazil," explains Dr. Maria Cristina Area (IMAM), one of the initiators of the ValBio-3D project. "The worldwide volume of sugarcane production is roughly 1900 million tons. From this, almost 570 million tons correspond to bagasse that is commonly burned, missing the opportunity to generate high value products."
RISE PFI, an internationally acknowledged research institute for processes and products based on lignocellulose, has been one of the pioneers in utilizing nanocellulose for biomedical devices and 3D printing.
"We were probably the first group to propose nanocellulose for 3D printing of wound dressings, which for example make it possible to tailor-make the structure and composition for personalized treatments," says Dr. Gary Chinga Carrasco, the other initiator of the ValBio-3D project. "So we had this innovative idea of utilizing bagasse for production of nanocellulose and testing this for wound dressing devices, manufactured by 3D printing."
Motivated by this cooperation and an increasing necessity to utilize and recycle biomass sidestreams, the two researchers gathered a consortium of experts from six countries from Europe and South America, including Universidad de La Frontera (Chile), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (Peru), Fraunhofer (Germany), and VTT (Finland), and developed a project proposal that was submitted to ERANet-LAC, a program that motivated the cooperation between Latin-America and Europe. The proposal was successful and they won a grant to realize the ValBio-3D project, for a period of 3 years.
"2019 is the last year of the project and we are concretizing various research activities, but specifically, we have already published 3 papers that are directly linked to the valorization of bagasse for 3D printing of wound dressings," explains Chinga Carrasco. In the first work published in ACS Sustainable Engineering and Chemistry we produced a high-value nanocellulose ink for 3D printing."
3D printed wound dressing device
3D printed wound dressing device. (Image: Gary Chinga Carrasco, RISE PFI)
"During the course of this work we realized how important the pulping process is, in the production of nanocellulose to be used in biomedical devices," adds Dr. Area. "Therefore we decided to continue working with this process in order to secure a bagasse raw material that was suitable for nanocellulose production and for biocompatible wound dressings.".
When it comes to biomaterials, the verification of cytotoxicity is one of the critical aspects in the development of biomedical devices. Based on this, the researchers engaged the RISE Bioscience and Materials group (Sweden), which are experts in testing of biomaterials intended for biomedical devices.
"This has been a very successful cooperation and we are happy to have this group onboard as they have a competence and methods that we were missing in our original consortium," continues Chinga Carrasco, and points to the recent paper about bagasse nanocellulose inks for 3D printing of wound dressing devices, published in the renowned journal Additive Manufacturing.
"We foresee that the next step in the development of wound dressings is the personalized aspect of the biomaterials, i.e. wound dressings that are structured and composed of constituents specially selected for a specific wound and wound treatment," continues Dr. Chinga Carrasco.
Additionally, wound dressings are expected to be intelligent and thus automatically detect and inform the clinicians about the development of a specific wound. Based on this, the researchers also invited groups from Czech Republic, with expertise on the development of sensors. This cooperation led to the utilization of bagasse nanocellulose-based substrates for printing humidity sensors. This work was published most recently in Journal of Applied Polymer Science.
"We expect that with time such sensors could actually be integrated into wound dressings and thus monitor various aspects of wound development, e.g. moisture and exudates in chronic wounds, which will be a step closer to effective wound management, improve the healing and be a concrete benefit for the patients, and not to mention, a major reduction of the economical burden for society," concludes Chinga Carrasco.
3D printed wound dressing device
Humidity sensor printed on a nanocellulose-based substrate. (Image: Gary Chinga Carrasco, RISE PFI)
"We are finalizing this project this year and we are looking for new opportunities to continue this cooperation," concluded Dr. Area. "We have various synergies in the consortium and we hope that we will find the opportunity again to continue with this important work of valorizing residual biomass for high-value products."
As part of the dissemination activities of the ValBio-3D project, Dr. Chinga Carrasco will also be presenting this work (Bagasse – A resource for Fibres and Nanocelluloses for Biocomposites and 3D Printing) in the renowned TAPPI 2019 International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials, to find place between June 3 - 7, 2019 at the Makuhari Messe International Convention Hall in Chiba, Japan. He will also chair the session about Nanocelluloses for Biomedical Applications, an excellent opportunity to continue discussing this interesting area of biomaterial development.
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