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Bio-based in space! 3D printers to make green plastics for astronauts.

Posted on Nov 10, 2016 6:02:00 PM

Braksem In Space.jpgBio-based is ready for blast off with news that thermoplastic resin producer Braskem, are partnering with space manufacturing company Made in Space on green plastics for 3D printers which can operate in zero gravity. This innovation, a year in the planning, is important as it can give astronauts greater autonomy by enabling them to fabricate parts and tools using 3D printing, which can save time and costs. Astronauts can receive digital designs over email and print off the appropriate tools and parts for their mission.

"Through this partnership, we combined one of the greatest innovations in polymers, Green Plastic, with advanced space technology to print 3D objects in zero gravity. Putting a renewable polymer in space for printing applications represents an important milestone in our history," said Patrick Teyssonneyre, director of Innovation & Technology at Braskem.

Braskem is a Brazilian petrochemical company based in São Paulo and founded in 2002. They are the world’s leading producer of biopolymers, making over 20 million tons of thermoplastic resin a year. 2015 saw the company produce a net profit of R$ 2.89 billion, a 67% growth in comparison to 2014. Braskem’s primary aim is to create sustainable solutions in chemicals and plastics which they now promote in more than 70 countries.

It is predicted that this intergalactic project could spark new developments in space technology and inspire new opportunities for polyolefin applications. Gustavo Sergi the director of Renewable Chemicals at Braskem ( @BraskemSA ) said of the project; "The technology has the potential to impact the plastics chain by enabling new applications and mass personalization made with a renewable resource."

3D printing.pngTheir parnters Made in Space ( @MadeInSpace ) was founded in 2010 and since then has become the world’s first space manufacturing company. In 2011, they produced the original 3D printing lab at the NASA Ames Research Centre. The technology was then officially launched into space earlier this year. Now the company’s main vision is to construct large structures which are sustainable enough to support human existence to live and work in space.

There are great expectations surrounding the project’s benefits, since 3D printing in space was defined by NASA as one of the advances essential for a future mission to Mars.

The equipment used in the 3D printer will make the printed parts from their sugar-based 'I’m green plastic'. The technology has the ability to capture CO2 from the atmosphere during the production process and helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, it is loaded with properties such as flexibility and chemical resistance, plus it is produced from a sustainable source. The polyethylene resin provides better printing tack and offers mechanical properties such as a superior abrasion and impact resistance. During its trials in space the first material that was printed was a pipe connector for a vegetable irrigation system which was produced by the Additive Manufacturing Facility – the first commercial 3D printer permanently allocated in space. Now the equipment will feature the I’m green plastic located on the International Space Station with the additional support from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.

"The ability to print parts and tools in 3D on demand increases the reliability and safety of space missions. This partnership with Braskem is fundamental for diversifying the raw materials used by the AMF and for making this technology more robust and versatile," said Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space.

It is hoped that this technology will greatly benefit intergalactic missions since 3D printing in space was outlined as an important progression by NASA especially to continue future exploration in Mars.


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About the Author

Emily O'Dowd
Emily O'Dowd
On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in th...read more