Green Plastic, which is made from sugarcane, is now being used to fabricate parts in space, thanks to a partnership between Braskem, the largest thermoplastic resin producer in the Americas, and U.S.-based Made In Space, the leading developer of zero gravity 3D printers and an official supplier to NASA. The technology allows astronauts to fabricate tools and spare parts in space using the biobased resin, which effectively increases the autonomy of space missions.
The first part made from the raw material outside of Earth was a pipe connector for a vegetable irrigation system, which was fabricated by the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF), the first commercial 3D printer permanently allocated in space. The equipment, which will fabricate various types of parts using I'm greenTM plastic, is located on the International Space Station (ISS) and was developed by Made In Space with the support of the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).
For over a year, Braskem's Innovation & Technology team has been working with Made In Space to develop a Green Plastic solution especially for 3D printing in zero gravity. The partnership will enable astronauts to receive by e-mail digital designs of the parts and then print them, which means dramatic savings in terms of time and costs. "Through this partnership, we combined one of the greatest innovations in polymers, Green Plastic, with advanced space technology to print 3D objects in zero gravity. Putting a renewable polymer in space for printing applications represents an important milestone in our history," said Patrick Teyssonneyre, director of Innovation & Technology at Braskem.
Polyethylene made from sugarcane was the material chosen for the project because of its combination of properties, such as flexibility, chemical resistance and recyclability, and also because it is made from a renewable resource. There are great expectations surrounding the project's benefits, since 3D printing in space was defined by NASA as one of the advances essential for a future mission to Mars. "The ability to print parts and tools in 3D on demand increases the reliability and safety of space missions. This partnership with Braskem is fundamental for diversifying the raw materials used by the AMF and for making this technology more robust and versatile," said Andrew Rush, CEO of Made In Space.
Braskem's technology is also present in the structure of the actual printer. The equipment's printing bed is made of Braskem's ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene (UHMW-PE), which is marketed under the brand UTEC®. The resin provides increased tack for printing with Green Polyethylene and offers mechanical properties, such as superior abrasion and impact resistance.
From space to Earth
The project should drive the development of solutions that go beyond manufacturing in space to create opportunities for innovations in polyolefin applications. Braskem's innovation team is ready to create, together with its Clients, solutions in Green Plastic and to make them specific for 3D printing. "The technology has the potential to impact the plastics chain by enabling new applications and mass personalization made with a renewable resource," said Gustavo Sergi, director of Renewable Chemicals at Braskem.
Reinforcing the relevance of its environmental aspect, a new Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Green Plastic indicated the removal of 2.78 tons of CO2 for each ton of biobased resin produced. The study was conducted by the consulting firm ACV Brasil and subjected to a technical review by a panel formed by the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research GmbH (IFEU) and Michigan State University.
About I'm greenTM Green Plastic
I'm greenTM plastic is made from ethylene derived from sugarcane ethanol. Its greatest advantage is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the air by capturing carbon gas during its production. It also features the same properties as traditional polyethylene, which means that manufacturers do not have to change their machinery and that it can be recycled.
Braskem is the largest thermoplastic resin producer in the Americas, with annual production volume of over 20 million tons, which includes other chemicals and basic petrochemicals, and annual revenue of R$54 billion. Driven by its purpose of improving people's lives and creating sustainable solutions in chemicals and plastics, Braskem operates in more than 70 countries, has around 8,000 Team Members and operates 40 industrial units in Brazil, the United States, Germany and Mexico, the latter in partnership with the Mexican company Idesa.
About Made In Space
Founded in 2010 as the world's first space manufacturing company, Made In Space, Inc. (MIS) has become a world leader in utilizing additive manufacturing for aerospace applications. In 2014, a NASA/Made In Space team sent the world's first 3D printer to the International Space Station (ISS). In partnership with CASIS, managers of the ISS National Lab, Made In Space sent the first commercial 3D printer to the ISS earlier this year. Additionally, the firm is working to manufacture and assemble large structures in the vacuum of space using their Archinaut architecture. Made In Space continues to push forward in the mission to allow people to live and work in space.
The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) was selected by NASA in July 2011 to maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS) U.S. National Laboratory through 2020. CASIS is dedicated to supporting and accelerating innovations and new discoveries that will enhance the health and wellbeing of people and our planet. For more information, visit www.iss-casis.org.