While plastic was the first material that was used in a 3D printer, inventive researchers have been developing ways for other substances to be used to create custom-made objects ranging from metal to exotic composite materials. Now, a group in Holland is 3D printing bacteria to create anything from false teeth to microlenses that can boost the power of solar panels.
The idea was to take a commercial 3D printer, remove the heating element that would tend to kill bacteria, and add a syringe and a pump to output liquid bacteria. The live bacteria are mixed with a unique polymer that becomes stable when it combines with calcium ions. The printer makes a layer of the bacteria on calcium, making a firm scaffold. In this way, customized fake teeth can be made.
Once the bacteria are passed through the printer, chemical reactions can be induced to create a broad range of materials. One process can create a material called bioglass from which lenses can be made that can then be used for solar power, photography, and a host of other applications. Another method, cheaper than conventional techniques, can create objects using graphene. Graphene is a material that is harder than a diamond but conducts electricity more efficiently than copper wire. It is considered the new super material that will revolutionize a wide variety of technologies ranging from power generation to space travel. Standard methods of creating graphene generate chemical waste as a byproduct and require a lot of energy.