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Kai Parthy’s new GROWLAY filament can 3D print breeding grounds for seeds and spores

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If you’re nostalgic for the days of Chia Pets, you might be very excited to learn about filament pioneer Kai Parthy’s latest 3D printing material. Called GROWLAY, the new filament can be printed into various structures and then functions as a breeding ground. Unlike the famous 1980s toy, which could sprout chia sprouts and grass, GROWLAY objects can be used to breed  a wide number of things including grass, moss, fungus, mildew, lichen, mycelium, phama-cultures and mother cells.

Kai Parthy, founder of German-based filament developer Lay Filaments, never disappoints with the borderline experimental materials he creates. He is perhaps best known as the inventor of wood filament, but he has also created a range of innovative 3D printing materials including SOLAY, a rubber-like material; POROLAY, a series of patent-pending porous and felt-like materials; LAYCERAMIC and LAYBRICK; and REFLECT-o-LAY, a glowing, reflective material.

Left to right: 3D printed GROWLAY brown cup, mold growth and slow-growing lichen

GROWLAY, the latest addition to his portfolio of additive manufacturing filaments, is one of the most intriguing yet, as it enables users to use printed objects as a sort of base for growing seeds or spores.

This is achieved by the material’s microcapillary properties, which function as tiny cavities that can absorb and store water as well as liquid nutrients or fertilizer. Parthy writes that because the capillary action runs throughout the printed object, it is well suited for storing liquids which can help grow organic materials.

For example, mold can begin to grow through the open-cell capillaries to form a mycelium, grass seeds can “get caught” and grow in the material, spores can germinate in the material’s small cavities, roots can attach themselves to the printed structure and lichens, which normally grow on stone walls or trees, can even begin to form.

Aside from being conducive to growing plants or fungi, GROWLAY boasts a few other properties which are worth mentioning. For one, it can be sterilized with gases or wet treatments (though not thermal treatments), making it suitable for food use or research purposes. It can also be dyed post-printing with safe materials like food colouring, which can be useful for colour differentiation in research.

Parthy has developed two versions of the material: GROWLAY white and GROWLAY brown. The white version is described by the materials developer as a fully compostable, “experimental filament” with open capillaries, well suited for experienced users.

GROWLAY brown, for its part, contains wood particles which act as “food” for promoting the growth of organic cells in the material. The brown version is not compostable and offers some more reliable print properties, including higher tensile strength, better temperature stability and more rigidity. Parthy says it can be printed “as easily as Laywood” and can be used by any level of user.

The innovative indoor farming filament is currently still patent pending.