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Fatty Creations: An Innovative Twist on 3D Printing

Illustration of a 3D printer creating a plastic butterfly from cooking oil

Written by Aaliyah Mulla
Illustrated by
Rebecca Michaels-Walker

What do McDonald’s hamburgers and 3D printing have in common? They both use cooking oil! At least, in this case…

Dr. Andre Simpson, a researcher at U of T Scarborough, has developed a way to turn used cooking oil into 3D printing resin. 3D printing resin is typically toxic for both us humans and the environment. It’s also fairly expensive and is made using fossil fuels, which aren’t too great for the environment either. The cooking oil resin, however, is much cheaper and far better for the environment. Because it’s made of fats, microorganisms in soil actually enjoy breaking down this resin, making it biodegradable. This means that instead of lying in a landfill for years, the resin can be “digested” by the Earth relatively quickly, which is great because, as we well know, we have more than enough plastic waste polluting our environment as it is.

What’s more, if used cooking oil is not properly disposed of, it can wreak havoc on the environment. If flushed down the drain, cooking oil will clog up sewage lines and can even end up coating and suffocating unsuspecting plants and animals with a harmful greasy sludge. Recycling used cooking oil to produce a useful product like 3D resin is a great way to prevent used oil from getting into our water systems and polluting the environment.

But does it actually work? Not only is the compound that makes up the 3D resin strong and usable, it’s also cheaper. While a typical resin usually costs around CAN$664 per litre, the new resin could be as cheap as 40 cents per litre. And just like conventional resins, it can produce highly detailed products. According to U of T, it can produce details as fine as 100 micrometers, which is about the width of a human hair! So far, Dr. Simpson’s lab has used it to produce some lovely plastic butterflies, but the resin also solidifies in sunlight, which means construction workers could use it to print parts on-site, and simply leave them in the sun before using them. For instance, Dr. Simpson suggests the resin could possibly be used to make self-curing walkways!

This kind of scientific innovation is what we need to live sustainably. With the climate crisis worsening by the day, this ability to recycle our waste and produce biodegradable products is more important than ever.