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ORNL and University of Maine collaboration launches 3D printing with wood products

ORNL and UMaine collaborated to 3D print a large-scale mold from bioderived materials. This mold is being used to fabricate the top of a yacht and was made from wood flour, cellulose nanofibrils and PLA.


A research collaboration between Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and the University of Maine (UMaine) launches the first large-scale bio-based additive manufacturing program in the US, connecting regional industry and university clusters with national lab resources.

The collaboration, announced in Washington DC by US Senators Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Department of Energy (DOE), ORNL and UMaine leadership, will advance efforts to 3D print with wood products, creating a new market for additive manufacturing and Maine’s forest products industry.

Funded by DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, the bio-based additive manufacturing program provides students, faculty and companies associated with UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center with access to ORNL’s assets in advanced manufacturing at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF). ORNL researchers will gain access to UMaine’s expertise in cellulose nano fiber (CNF) and composites.

“The University of Maine is doing cutting-edge research related to bio-feedstocks and the application of advanced manufacturing in regional industries. We are thrilled at this opportunity to expand our research base while providing UMaine with access to the leading national capabilities we have developed at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL,”

- Thomas Zacharia, director of ORNL

Scientists from ORNL and UMaine will conduct fundamental research in several key areas, including CNF production, drying, functionalization, and compounding with thermoplastics, multiscale modeling and sustainability life-cycle analysis. By placing CNF into plastics, strong, stiff and recyclable bioderived material systems can be developed that may be 3D printed at deposition rates of hundreds of pounds per hour and up to 50 percent cellulose fiber loading. Printing with 50 percent wood is anticipated to open new markets for pulp, fiber and forest products industries. As a forest product, CNF could rival steel properties and its successful incorporation into plastics shows great promise for a renewable feedstock suitable for additive manufacturing.

ORNL is a leader in additive manufacturing and large-scale printing, producing the 3D printed Shelby Cobra, an excavator, utility vehicle, house, boat mold, wind turbine blade, a trim-and-die-tool for aerospace and molds for precast concrete used in building applications. ORNL scientists are also leaders in 3D printing with renewable feedstocks and multi-materials such as lignin, bamboo, polymers and metals.

The ORNL and UMaine research team will work with the forest products industry to produce new bio-based materials that will be conducive to 3D printing large-scale products such as boat hull molds, shelters, building components, tooling for composites and wind blades. The collaboration will position the industry to print large, structurally demanding systems, such as boats.