Combination and processing keratin with lignin as biocomposite materials for additive manufacturing technology

Acta Biomater. 2020 Mar 1:104:95-103. doi: 10.1016/j.actbio.2019.12.026. Epub 2019 Dec 23.


Additive manufacturing using Nature's resources is a desirable goal. In this work we examine how the inherent macromolecular properties of keratin and lignin can be utilised and developed using green chemistry principles to form 4D functional materials. A new methodology utilising protein complexation by lignin was applied to form copolymers and reinforce keratin cross-linking networks on aqueous and solid state processing. Solubility, chemical and processing characteristics found a favoured 4:1 ratio of keratin to lignin was most desired for effective further processing as 3D printed paste forms. Thermally processing keratin-lignin with plasticisers and processing aids demonstrated extruded FDM filaments could be formed at temperatures >130°C, but degradation of keratin-lignin materials was observed. Employing paste printing strategies, keratin-lignin hydrogels could successfully print 3D skirt outlines. This was achieved with aqueous hydrogels prepared at 30-40% solids content with and without plasticizers over a defined processing timeframe. Mechanical response to moisture stimuli was successfully demonstrated for the 4:1 keratin-lignin printed material on water soaking, realising the ability of these keratin-lignin biocomposite materials to introduce a 4th dimensional response after 3D printing. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: In this paper we describe new perspectives for how biopolymers can be used and processed to develop (co)polymers as 3D & 4D printed responsive materials without the need for synthetic chemical modifications. We utilise a novel methodology employing bioconjugation to synthesise and develop co-polymer materials from keratin and lignin and demonstrate this can be achieved in both water and solid state. We manipulate the inherent chemical attributes of both biopolymers to develop these new functional materials under green chemistry processing conditions. This is a practical example how the chemical coupling of two biopolymers at molecular-scale can be leveraged to give co-polymer materials which retain their inherent macromolecular properties to behave as functional, 4D responsive biomaterials.

Keywords: Additive manufacturing; Biocomposites; Biomaterials; Conjugates; Green 3D printing; Keratin; Lignin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biocompatible Materials / chemistry*
  • Calorimetry, Differential Scanning
  • Carbon-13 Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Hydrogels / chemistry
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Keratins / chemistry*
  • Lignin / chemistry*
  • Temperature
  • Thermogravimetry
  • Viscosity


  • Biocompatible Materials
  • Hydrogels
  • Keratins
  • Lignin