Bone-like 3D-Printed Composite Material

Nature has an extraordinary knack for producing composite materials that are simultaneously light and strong, porous and rigid – like mollusk shells or bone. But producing such materials in a lab or factory – particularly using environmentally friendly materials and processes – is extremely challenging. Researchers in the Soft Materials Laboratory of EPFL in Switzerland turned to nature for a solution. They have pioneered a 3D printable ink that contains Sporosarcina pasteurii: a bacterium which, when exposed to a urea-containing solution, triggers a mineralization process that produces calcium carbonate (CaCO3). The upshot is that the researchers can use their ink – dubbed BactoInk – to 3D-print virtually any shape, which will then gradually mineralize over the course of a few days.

3D printing is gaining increasing importance in general, but the number of materials that can be 3D printed is limited for the simple reason that inks must fulfil certain flow conditions,” explains lab head Esther Amstad. “For example, they must behave like a solid when at rest, but still be extrudable through a 3D printing nozzle – sort of like ketchup.”

Amstad explains that 3D printing inks containing small mineral particles have previously been used to meet some of these flow criteria, but that the resulting structures tend to be soft, or to shrink upon drying, leading to cracking and loss of control over the shape of the final product. “So, we came up with a simple trick: instead of printing minerals, we printed a polymeric scaffold using our BactoInk, which is then mineralized in a second, separate step. After about four days, the mineralization process triggered by the bacteria in the scaffold leads to a final product with a mineral content of over 90%.” The result is a strong and resilient bio-composite, which can be produced using a standard 3D printer and natural materials, and without the extreme temperatures often required for manufacturing ceramics. Final products no longer contain living bacteria, as they are submerged in ethanol at the end of the mineralization process.

A paper on the study was recently published in the journal Materials Today.


Secretive1,000 Years Lasting Concrete From Ancient Romans Could Reduce Climate Change

Rome's Pantheon stands defiant 2,000 years after it was built, its marble floors sheltered under the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. For decades, researchers have probed samples from Roman concrete structurestombs, breakwaters, aqueducts, and wharves—to find out why these ancient buildings endure when modern concrete may crumble after only a few decades.

In a recent study, scientists have got closer to the answer—and their findings could reverberate long into the future. Not only is Roman concrete exponentially more durable than modern concrete, but it can also repair itself. Creating a modern equivalent that lasts longer than existing materials could reduce climate emissions and become a key component of resilient infrastructure, like seawalls. Currently, concrete is second only to water as the world’s most consumed material, and making it accounts for about 7 percent of global emissions.

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