Scientists Create 3D-Printed, Biodegradable, Carbon-Capturing Algae Strong Enough for T-Shirts

Your next t-shirt could be algae-based and come from a 3D printer.

New research published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, details how researchers from Delft University of Technology and the University of Rochester created a textile from algae using a 3D printer.

According to the researchers, this renewable resource can create a material strong enough for frequent-wear clothes and labels. And it’s as easy to grow, they say, as a sourdough starter.

“Three-dimensional printing has shown to be an effective technology for fabricating living materials that have many environmental and other benefits,” Anne S. Meyer, an associate professor of biology at Rochester, said in a statement.

The biodegradable material comes with another perk: absorbing C02. That’s because the material is made of living algae, making it photosynthetic, and capable of turning your outfit into a stylish sequestration apparatus. The researchers say the material is easy to make and scalable.

“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,” Meyer said.

Scientists Create 3D-Printed, Biodegradable, Carbon-Capturing Algae Strong Enough for T-Shirts
Artist’s illustration of 3D printed materials. | Lizah van der Aart

CO2 Converting

The technology is also being looked at as a candidate for creating artificial leaves capable of converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy. By storing energy, the leaves could “grow” a variety of fuels here on Earth and in outer space, according to the researchers.

“For artificial leaves, our materials are like taking the ‘best parts’ of plants—the leaves—which can create sustainable energy, without needing to use resources to produce parts of plants—the stems and the roots—that need resources but don’t produce energy,” Meyer says. “We are making a material that is only focused on the sustainable production of energy.”

Algae is already widely used in cosmetics and foodstuffs as a sustainable ingredient with a variety of applications. In recent years its found its way into apparel, mainly as a foam alternative in sneakers. It’s being eyed as a sustainable alternative to traditional textiles because of its low-impact and minimal need for water and other resources.

“Our living materials are exciting because they can sustain themselves over periods of weeks and can be multiplied onsite,” says Meyer, “so that they have the potential to be truly long-lasting and able to be shared all over the globe as easily as sourdough starter.”

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