Mechanical Recycling of 3D-Printed Thermosets for Reuse in Vat Photopolymerization

Erin m. Maines, Michaela a. Polley, Greg Haugstad, Brenda Zhao, Theresa m. Reineke, Christopher j. Ellison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as three-dimensional (3D) printing, is a rapidly growing technique that is increasingly used for the production of polymer products, resulting in an associated increase in plastic waste generation. Waste from a particular class of 3D-printing, known as vat photopolymerization, is of particular concern, as these materials are typically thermosets that cannot be recycled or reused. Here, we report a mechanical recycling process that uses cryomilling to generate a thermoset powder from photocured parts that can be recycled back into the neat liquid monomer resin. Mechanical recycling with three different materials is demonstrated: two commercial resins with characteristic brittle and elastic mechanical properties and a third model material formulated in-house. Studies using photocured films showed that up to 30 wt% of the model material could be recycled producing a toughness of 2.01 ± 0.55 MJ/m3, within error of neat analogues (1.65 ± 0.27 MJ/m3). Using dynamic mechanical analysis and atomic force microscopy-based infrared spectroscopy, it was determined that monomers diffuse into the recycled powder particles, creating interpenetrating networks upon ultraviolet (UV) exposure. This process mechanically adheres the particles to the matrix, preventing them from acting as failure sites under a tensile load. Finally, 3D-printing of the commercial brittle material with 10 wt% recycle content produced high quality parts that were visually similar. The maximum stress (46.7 ± 6.2 MPa) and strain at break (11.6 ± 2.3%) of 3D-printed parts with recycle content were within error the same as neat analogues (52.0 ± 1.7 MPa; 13.4 ± 1.8%). Overall, this work demonstrates mechanical recycling of photopolymerized thermosets and shows promise for the reuse of photopolymerized 3D-printing waste.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4625-4633
Number of pages9
JournalACS Applied Polymer Materials
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 26 2024

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