Turning Flowers Into Printer Ink? Yes, It’s Happening Now
According to Nanyang Technological University, scientists have found a way to use sunflower pollen to develop 3D printing ink. While it’s not your typical printer ink, it’s interesting that flower pollen material is being used to fabricate parts useful for tissue engineering, toxicity testing and drug delivery. It begs the question, could an organic material like pollen replace the environmentally unfriendly chemicals used to create printer ink? It’s entirely likely, but unfortunately it is cost prohibitive at this time.
Apparently this pollen-derived ink holds its shape when deposited onto a surface, which makes it a viable alternative to current inks used for 3D printing in the biomedical field. Biomedical inks are notorious for being difficult to work with; such inks are usually soft and delicate, which means ensuring the final product holds its shape is nearly impossible.
Using the pollen, scientists were able to develop a framework that enabled cell adhesion and growth, which is the critical building block to tissue regeneration. It’s encouraging that a natural substance has the potential to replace other non-sustainable compounds, and clearly opens the door for printer ink manufacturers to consider this as they work to make their inks sustainable. Will the likes of HP, Epson, and Canon actually see this as a gamechanger? It’s too early to tell if they’ll even consider this viable given the costs of procurement. But it’s certainly an exciting breakthrough that has the potential to make inks of all kinds more environmentally friendly.
Nozzle clogging has long been a challenge for nearly every printer cartridge manufacturer. Will pollen prove even more likely to clog? According to Asst Prof Song "The pollen-based hybrid ink we have developed, in contrast, is mechanically strong enough to retain its structure without jamming the printer."
Wondering about the extraction process? Pollen-based hybrid ink starts with incubating sunflower pollen in an alkaline solution -- an environmentally-friendly process similar to soapmaking -- for six hours to form pollen microgel particles. It is then mixed with hydrogels such as alginate, a naturally occurring polymer typically obtained from brown seaweed, or hyaluronic acid, a clear, gooey substance naturally produced by the body, to form the final pollen-hydrogel hybrid ink.
Even the extraction process is environmentally friendly. Let’s hope scientists at HP and other printer ink manufacturers don’t miss this opportunity to create “greener” ink based on this great discovery!