A new utility for McDonald's cooking oil: 3D printing

Researchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough collected cooking oil from a McDonald's restaurant for their research. Source: utsc.utorontoResearchers at the University of Toronto Scarborough collected cooking oil from a McDonald's restaurant for their research. Source: utsc.utoronto

At the University of Toronto, there was a problem, the value of the material for Professor Andr Simpson's 3D printer, which was crucial for his research, was very high. No one imagined that the solution to the costs would be McDonald's.

Andr director of the RMN Environmental Center, dedicated to environmental research. To perform experiments, he uses the NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) spectrometer, which works similar to an MRI to give some medical diagnosis.

"We use NMR spectrometers to examine tiny living organisms and understand their biochemical response to changes in the environment. The aim is to help bridge the gap between medical research and the environment."

Material to print on the 3D printer was $ 500 / L

The researcher had purchased a 3D printer for the laboratory in 2017 and hoped to use it to build custom parts that would keep living organisms within the NMR spectrometer for his research. However, the material for performing light projection printing is liquid plastic, which costs more than $ 500 / L.

The scientist analyzed the compound in several ways, in an attempt to find an alternative to resin, and found a connection. The molecules that make up the plastic resin were similar to the fats found in ordinary cooking oil. Andr says:

"The thought came to us. Can we use cooking oil and turn it into resin for 3D printing?"

Finding a fast food restaurant to donate used cooking oil

The big challenge now, after two years of research, was to find a large sample of used cooking oil. Andr said:

"We got in touch with all the fast food restaurants around us. Everyone said no."

So, to the researchers' surprise, McDonald's near the University campus in Toronto, Ontario, agreed to supply 10L of used oil.

In the lab, scientists had to filter the oil to remove bits of food particles. PhD student Rajshree Ghosh Biswas was responsible for synthesizing the oil and converting it into high quality resin. Each time the resin was produced from oil, a 3D butterfly was printed to check the progress.

Over time, the breakthrough occurred and the team of researchers managed to successfully produce a butterfly with high precision with 100 micrometers in size. The experiment managed to produce a commercially viable resin, according to Andr, which could be sold at a price of $ 0.30 / L of used cooking oil. Another interesting part is that, as the print is made of fat, it is biodegradable.

A 3D printed butterfly made from used McDonald's oilA 3D printed butterfly made from used McDonald's oil. Source: utsc.utoronto

Source: University of Toronto Scarborough, cnn

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