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Israeli scientists produce 3D printer ‘ink’ capable of producing wood products

By controlling cell structure of wood, researchers can print designs that warp into a predetermined shape; project aimed at sustainably sourced short life-span products

A helix artisanal piece produced by a wood-based 3D printing ink developed by researchers at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, September 20, 2022. (Supplied)
A helix artisanal piece produced by a wood-based 3D printing ink developed by researchers at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, September 20, 2022. (Supplied)

Researchers at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University have unveiled a 3D printer “ink” capable of producing printed wooden materials.

The technology takes organic “wood derivatives” and develops them into a paste, which is then used as ink by a 3D printer. As the paste dries, it warps into the desired shape.

Doron Kam, a PhD student working on the project, told The Times of Israel that the technology contains two main stages.

Firstly, organic material is broken down into “wood flour” and then combined with two other organic products which act as a glue.

In the second stage, the material is placed in a 3D printer, which proceeds to print a flat, 2D object. In regular tree wood, the structure of the cells determines the shape the wood will warp into as it dries. However, with the Hebrew University’s new technology, scientists can themselves control the cell structure, and therefore control the exact shape that the product will form as it dries and warps.

“We are trying to make a material that won’t last forever, that’s what plastic is for. We are not looking for that,” Kam said.

Rather, Kam’s team envisions a material that lasts for “three or four years of use, and then you can grind it down and print it again. This is sustainability in our product, this is our principle.”

The team at Hebrew University is focusing its resources on the scientific process behind the concept, and has thus far only produced small example pieces.

The technology’s ability to produce large-scale items remains unproven. Kam insisted that it could be done, telling The Times of Israel that the printed wood product would maintain the same strength and durability as regular tree wood.

The printed wood can even maintain the aesthetic properties of its original source, allowing a user to select between different types of wood, such as oak or pine.

A ‘saddle-like’ curved piece produced by a wood-based 3D printing ink developed by researchers at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, September 20, 2022. (Supplied)

Kam said that even after the process of grinding and printing, the wood maintains a distinct smell based on the species of tree it was originally derived from.

Products such as his could lead to a “sustainable economy at home,” Kam said.

With the cost of living continuing to soar, Kam said consumers can expect to see reusable 3D printed wooden products “very very soon.”

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