The resulting study published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials describes the research outcome and its future implications. The project started with the 3D printing of dead cellulose excreted by bacteria, which demonstrated valuable properties such as flexibility, strength, toughness, and shape memory. It was then used as a 3D printer to deposit living algae onto cellulose.
As a result, the material possessed both the photosynthetic ability of algae and the strength of cellulose.
Not only was the resulting material biodegradable, scalable, and low-cost to produce, but its photosynthetic nature meant that it could feed on sunlight and potentially regenerate the preliminary bioprinting setup.
According to the authors, the materials could survive for at least three days without nutrients, but nutrients would extend their survival. It could quickly scale up Objects printed up to 70 cm 20 cm in size. Because of the cellulose, the printed items were strong enough to stand on their own, but they could also be detached and reattached to different surfaces.
“Living cell printing is an appealing technology for the fabrication of engineered living materials,” says Marie-Eve Aubin-Tam, an associate professor in the Faculty of Applied Sciences. “Our photosynthetic living material has the distinct advantage of being mechanically robust enough for applications in real-world settings.”
One application for such a novel material would be creating artificial leaves capable of converting water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and energy. With the ability to transform the sugars produced by the leaves into fuel, it may be possible to generate energy in environments where plants do not grow well, such as space.
“We developed a material that can generate energy simply by exposing it to light,” says Kui Yu, a PhD student involved in the research. “The material’s biodegradability and the recyclable nature of microalgal cells make it a sustainable living material.”Another use could be creating elements that sense and respond in the same way that plants do.
Elvin Karana of the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering elaborated, saying, “What if our everyday products were alive: could sense, grow, adapt, and eventually die?” This one-of-a-kind collaborative project demonstrates that this question extends beyond the realm of speculative design. We hope that our article will spark new conversations between the design and science communities, as well as inspire new research directions for future photosynthetic living materials.”