Navy Develops Biodegrading 3D Printing Formulation for Disposable Oceanic Sensors

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Underwater equipment strategically left in the ocean could be made biodegradable, thanks to a recent invention from U.S. Navy scientists. A team of scientists at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, Florida, was issued a 20-year patent for a 3D printable material made of a marine-biodegradable base polymer that it says is easy to build from and would break down over time.

Unmanned or autonomous underwater vehicles (UUVs) are employed to house and deploy oceanic sensors that are designed to be single-use (disposable) or to last a certain amount of time before ceasing to function. Retrieval from the ocean floor can be costly or impossible, so in some cases they may be abandoned—a less than an eco-friendly solution.

By tweaking a combination of polymers including polycaprolactone (PCL), polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA), or polybutylene succinate (PBS), along with an agar gelling agent, the material can be 3D printed into any size or shape and made to last a specific amount of time before degrading. The new plastic compound was invented by Josh Kogot, Ryan Kincer, and April Hirsch in the center’s Biotechnology Research and Development Lab.

“There is currently no known way to design and produce these structures …

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