A team of researchers from Tufts University has developed a leather-like 3D printing material made from silk. The material not only comes from a sustainable source, but is also completely recyclable and biodegradable. At the same time, it offers properties comparable to those of real leather. Scientists have already used their new formulation to 3D print a usable wallet. Other fashionable consumer goods are also in preparation.
The skin is characterized by resistance and flexibility. Being a staple in the fashion industry, the material is usually obtained by tanning the skins of animals such as cattle. Silk alone is nothing like leather, but the Tufts team found a way to work silk to make it stronger, more durable and compatible with a purpose-built pneumatic extrusion 3D printer.
The formulation process involved blending the silk fibers from the cocoons of the silkworms into a mud-like mixture. The fibers were broken down into their basic protein components and then mixed with a plasticizer and a vegetable rubber thickener, which gave the resulting material its extrudability.
3D printing biomaterials like silk can work wonders for the circular economy. Scientists at Delft University of Technology recently used a new 3D bioprinting technique to create a living material “artificial leaf” from algal cells.