Microscale 3D Printing and Tuning of Cellulose Nanocrystals Reinforced Polymer Nanocomposites

Groetsch, Alexander; Stelzl, Samuel; Nagel, Yannick; Kochetkova, Tatiana; Scherrer, Nadim C.; Ovsianikov, Aleksandr; Michler, Johann; Pethö, Laszlo; Siqueira, Gilberto; Nyström, Gustav; Schwiedrzik, Jakob

Small 19 (2023)

The increasing demand for functional materials and an efficient use of sustainable resources makes the search for new material systems an ever growing endeavor. With this respect, architected (meta-)materials attract considerable interest. Their fabrication at the micro- and nanoscale, however, remains a challenge, especially for composites with highly different phases and unmodified reinforcement fillers. This study demonstrates that it is possible to create a non-cytotoxic nanocomposite ink reinforced by a sustainable phase, cellulose nanocrystals (CNCs), to print and tune complex 3D architectures using two-photon polymerization, thus, advancing the state of knowledge toward the microscale. Micro-compression, high-res scanning electron microscopy, (polarised) Raman spectroscopy, and composite modeling are used to study the structure-property relationships. A 100% stiffness increase is observed already at 4.5 wt% CNC while reaching a high photo-polymerization degree of ≈80% for both neat polymers and CNC-composites. Polarized Raman and the Halpin–Tsai composite-model suggest a random CNC orientation within the polymer matrix. The microscale approach can be used to tune arbitrary small scale CNC-reinforced polymer-composites with comparable feature sizes. The new insights pave the way for future applications where the 3D printing of small structures is essential to improve performances of tissue-scaffolds, extend bio-electronics applications or tailor microscale energy-absorption devices.