Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have used Cincinnati Incorporated’s CAMX-award winning Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology, to 3D print an entire table that contains 10 percent bamboo fiber composite. The purpose of this, according to ORNL’s Soydan Ozcan said, was to determine whether bio-based feedstock materials are feasible in additive manufacturing.

According to the ORNL investigators behind the experiments, this bamboo-polylactic acid (PLA) 3D printing material offers strong structural properties and is environmentally friendly. Bamboo grows extremely quickly, absorbs CO2, does not require chemicals, and even prevents erosion. These factors, combined with the versatility of the grass, make bamboo an attractive option for environmentally conscious additive manufacturers, who could use the newly developed bamboo-based pellets as a substitute for other, more traditional printing materials.

“We are investigating the use of different types of cellulose fibers to develop feedstock materials with better mechanical performance that can increase the number of available composites and opportunities for sustainable practices,” Ozcan said.

As ORNL explained, ORNL added chopped bamboo fibers to a bio-polymer resin to create bamboo-based pellets, resulting in a sustainable material that can be used for manufacturing molds, prototypes, appliances and furniture. ORNL mixed the natural material with polylactic acid (PLA) in different ratios and then testing its properties.

The scientists behind the project found that a material with 10 percent bamboo content exhibited a higher elastic modulus (stiffness) than “neat PLA,” while a material with 20 percent bamboo content produced an even higher modulus.

As says, 3D printing and bamboo have been used in conjunction before, but ORNL’s application is the first known example of actually feeding bamboo through a 3D printer. Last year, Edmond Wong and Stratasys teamed up to create this 3D printed bamboo stool, while London-based Bamboo Bicycle Club has also used additive manufacturing technology to make bamboo-framed bikes.