North Dakota State University (NDSU) Ph.D. candidate Samantha Silbert is hard at work in the lab utilizing soy and other bio-materials to reduce the environmental footprint of 3-D printing.  The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is supporting her analysis of soy-derived resins to investigate how they can be modified to match or exceed properties of petroleum-derived counterparts for 3-D printing.

Silbert is a member of the United Soybean Board’s Collegiate Biobased Network (CBN), which offers  students networking, education and mentoring opportunities related to the role of soy in biobased products.

“It’s pretty neat to print complex 3-D structures and know it comes from soy,” Silbert says. “Soy has the potential to improve 3-D printing by reducing or replacing petroleum-based resins, which will help make the process more sustainable, and potentially lower costs.”

A tiny model bison printed with soy-derived resins.

She adds, “I see soy as a very versatile material with a promising future. With current attention focused on replacing products made from non-renewable materials, soy is an excellent, inexpensive candidate. I hope that eventually this research will yield a product that 3-D printing companies will be interested in using and is an easy transition.”

All 3-D printing begins with a digital model designed on a computer and ends with a three-dimensional object that is made by adding material one layer at a time until the item is created. 3-D printing technology, also known as additive manufacturing, is already revolutionizing product manufacturing with the potential for even greater use in the future.

Silbert, who is in her last year of NDSU’s Coatings and Polymeric Materials Ph.D. program, previously developed ultraviolet (UV)-curable epoxy and ambiently-curable non-isocyanate polyurethane coatings from abundant, inexpensive soy-based resins.  According to Silbert, soy-derived resins have tremendous potential for use in 3-D printing, offering a sustainable and cost-effective alternative to petroleum-based resins.

The research involves printing objects made with the soy-based resins and using them for tensile and flexural testing to compare mechanical properties. She is also investigating bioderived crosslinkers and diluents for this system that can replace those derived from bisphenol-A, a compound where substitutions are sought due to environmental and health concerns.

College students interested in joining CBN, may do so here at no cost. The program provides networking, education and mentoring opportunities for students from any discipline, who are interested in biobased products and the future of the bioeconomy.