A new process to develop organic polymers from the fragrant molecules in conifers and fruit trees could lead to a new generation of sustainable materials for use in biomedical applications or prototyping.
Researchers from the University of Birmingham, UK, have developed a process which use terpene molecules in essential oils to produce resins for 3D printing applications.
Terpenes can be found in the essential oils of a wide variety of plants and are often used in fragrances, cosmetics and other household products.
As terpenes are difficult to extract and process, synthetic versions are often used within the chemical industry.
The research team at the University of Birmingham’s School of Chemistry has, however, developed a technology to process terpenes efficiently enough to produce materials.
The process involves using a unique technique to extract the molecules and convert them into stable resins.
The polymers are then combined with sulphur-based organic compounds called thiols, which activate the resins by light to form a solid material.
The team, which published their results in Polymer Chemistry journal, said that the processing technique makes the terpene molecules particularly useful for stereolithography 3D printing, where objects are built up in multiple layers and fused together under UV light to form 3D objects.
“We need to find sustainable ways of making polymer products that do not rely on petrochemicals. Terpenes have been recognised as having real potential in this search and our work is a promising step towards being able to harness these natural products,” explained lead author, professor Andrew Dove.
According to the research team, different terpenes produce different material properties.
“The next step for the team is to investigate those properties more fully to better control them. Although the fragrances are not key to the terpenes’ material properties, researchers are interested to see if they can also be harnessed in some products,” the researchers stated.