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Keywords:

  • bioplastic;
  • chitin;
  • manufacture;
  • recycle;
  • sustainable

Despite the urgent need for sustainable materials for mass-produced commercial products, and the incredible diversity of naturally biodegradable materials with desired structural properties, the use of regenerated biomaterials in modern engineering remains extremely limited. Chitin is a prime example: although it is responsible for some of the most remarkable mechanical properties exhibited by natural materials, including nacre, insect cuticle, and crustacean shells, and it is the most abundant organic compound on earth after cellulose, it has not been utilized in manufacturing strategies for commercial applications. Here we describe how analysis of differences in the molecular arrangement and mechanical properties of chitosan polymer that result from different processing methods led to development of a scalable manufacturing strategy for production of large three-dimensional (3D) objects of chitosan. This chitosan fabrication method offers a new pathway for large-scale production of fully compostable engineered components with complex forms, and establishes chitosan as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used in place of existing non-degradable plastics for commercial manufacturing.mame201300426-gra-0001