3D Printing With Paper? Could Paper Pulp Printing, an innovative solution from Dutch designer Beer Holthuis, be the start of a new 3D printing industry niche?

"It's actually pretty tough" says Beer Holthuis, designer of the Paper Pulp Printer, as he bashes one of the paper prints against the table. I have to admit I was surprised, I had presumed you would handle an object 3D printed from paper more like some fragile glass.

Recently at Filaments.directory we've looked at multiple solutions for plastic recycling, particularly in the 3D printing industry. We've seen post-industrial plastic waste from Filamentive and home filament recycling from Filabot. Beer's solution is slightly different however in that is doesn't involve plastic at all!

3D printed paper pulp layers

Why paper?

In short, Beer's idea was to take a sustainable, biodegradable waste material and turn it into something that could be extruded. Beer quickly settles on paper for a number of reasons:

  • It's very cheap.
  • It's widely available.
  • It's a huge waste product: in 2016, the global average paper consumption was 57kg per person but this was as high as 213kg per person in the United State! (Paper consumption statistics).

So what is Paper Pulp?

The basic idea is to turn paper waste into an extrudable pulp. This requires both the pulp itself and also an extruder capable of extruding the pulp. The first for Beer was to find a binding agent that could be used for the pulp. The binding agent is what the paper particles are suspended in. There are some important technical requirements for this binding agent:

  • It needed to be biodegradable. Whilst not strictly necessary this was important to Beer to maintain the sustainability of the product.
  • It needs to dry in a reasonable time and be hard once dry.
  • It needs to be soluble so that the print could be easily re-used by just soaking in water.
  • It needs to be very low friction so that it can be easily extruded.

The Material Research

The major challenge in the research phase was finding a binding agent that ticked all the boxes. To research this, Beer manually screened a number of potential binding agents by creating the pulp mixture and pushing it through a funnel by hand. If it could pass this test then the sample was further tested on a larger extruder that was linked to a 3D printer.

Paper Pulp Printing

The paper pulp is stored in a reservoir that can be extruded through simple pressure extrusion. Beer uses a custom 12mm extrusion head to print the paper pulp.

Once printed, the product needs to be dried. This can be done just on top of a home radiator and takes about a week. In a ventilated oven it can be dried in about 24 hours. Part of this is due to that whopping 12mm extrusion diameter.

The Result

What's produced is an extremely unique looking print.

3D printed lamp using paper pulp

For more information, visit Paper Pulp Printer's website

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Beer Holthuis interview Paper Pulp Printer