Functionalized Cellulose Nanocrystals as Active Reinforcements for Light-Actuated 3D-Printed Structures
Conventional manufacturing techniques allow the production of photoresponsive cellulose nanocrystals (CNC)-based composites that can reversibly modify their optical, mechanical, or chemical properties upon light irradiation. However, such materials are often limited to 2D films or simple shapes and do not benefit from spatial tailoring of mechanical properties resulting from CNC alignment. Herein, we propose the direct ink writing (DIW) of 3D complex structures that combine CNC reinforcement effects with photoinduced responses. After grafting azobenzene photochromes onto the CNC surfaces, up to 15 wt % of modified nanoparticles can be introduced into a polyurethane acrylate matrix. The influence of CNC on rheological properties allows DIW of self-standing 3D structures presenting local shear-induced alignment of the active reinforcements. The printed composites, with longitudinal elastic modulus of 30 MPa, react to visible-light irradiation with 30–50% reversible softening and present a shape memory behavior. The phototunable energy absorption of 3D complex structures is demonstrated by harnessing both geometrical and photoresponsive effects, enabling dynamic mechanical responses to environmental stimuli. Functionalized CNC in 3D printable inks have the potential to allow the rapid prototyping of several devices with tailored mechanical properties, suitable for applications requiring dynamic responses to environmental changes.