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3D printing is ‘greener’ and more sustainable than you might think. Indeed, as the additive manufacturing world becomes more concerned with the environmental impact of large scale production, the 3D printing process itself enables companies to focus on new ways in which to help the environment.

While 3D printing has not historically been solely concerned with environmental solutions or sustainability, this is starting to change as additive manufacturing further advances and places greater emphasis on sustainable methods of production as well as technological innovation.

Since its creation, reduced manufacturing waste materials has always been a strong case for 3D printing. Material sciences and a rise in the use of recycled/biodegradable materials for additive manufacturing is another example of how this technology can be the ‘greener’ option for many businesses. What’s more, since 3D printing is relatively mainstream today, we are continuing to see a trend of reduced transport costs.

Several 3D printing companies’ key goal is to encourage positive environmental impact through additive manufacturing practices or solutions. In this post we will look at three businesses that are making waves in this arena.

XtreeE: 3D printed ‘X-Reef’ in the Calanques national park

Coral reefs are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems and up to a quarter of all ocean species depend on them for food and shelter. However, according to the Planetary Coral Reef Foundation, around 25% of the planet’s coral reefs have already disappeared and an estimated two-thirds of all coral reefs are currently at risk.

Threats to these precious ecosystems include pollution, disease, over fishing, sedimentation and bleaching. Rising ocean temperatures stress corals and cause them to eject the algal cells living within them, which they rely on to produce energy. Prolonged separation kills both the coral and algae, leaving nothing but a bone-white skeleton. Various initiatives are making impressive strides in this vital area however, with the goal of preserving and growing new reefs whilst protecting the species that rely on them so intrinsically. However, 3D printing is playing an integral role in such developments.

For example, concrete 3D printing company XtreeE are tackling this issue head on. They worked together with ecological design company Seaboost to combine their expertise in ecological engineering and large-scale 3D printing to design, manufacture and immerse a “next generation reef”.

3D printed reefs. Photo courtesy: sculpteo.com

They said: “In a global context of degradation of the marine environment, 3D concrete printing offers limitless prospects for future ecological restoration projects from Mediterranean waters to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Designed in collaboration with biologists, the cavity sizes, shapes and textures have been optimized to maximize the reproduction and population of the target underwater species. This first prototype was immersed in the Calanques natural park in France.”

They added: “The concrete 3D printing technology developed by XtreeE has made it possible to recreate an unprecedented porous architectural complexity mimicking one of the richest natural habitats in the Mediterranean: the Coralligenous. 3D Printing allows this very complex geometry to be produced at low cost. In nature, this deep rocky ecosystem of biogenic origin can take several hundred years to form, then shelter a few thousand species (fish, crustaceans, corals, algae, mollusks, etc.).”

To read more on 3D printed coral reefs check out my interview with The Reef Design Lab’s industrial designer Alex Goad, who has created a 3D printed coral reef at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The New Raw Crafts Plastic Waste ‘With Robots”

Dutch research and design company The New Raw is another trailblazer in this sector. They use recycled plastics to create everything from benches, mats and changing rooms to kitchen wear and beach furniture via 3D printing. The Rotterdam based business was founded in 2015 by architects Panos Sakkas and Foteini Setaki with the ambition to give new life to discarded materials through “design, robots and craftsmanship”.

Photo courtesy: Instagram.com/printyourcity/

Accordingly to their website: “The New Raw develops its own (digital) craftsmanship techniques through a formal and technical language that highlights the texture and the layer-by-layer character of its in-house robotic manufacturing process.”

Sakkas and Setaki said: “[3D printing] transforms plastic waste into beautiful and meaningful products that are 100% circular.”

Their ongoing research initiative Print Your City explores the concept of applying 3D printing to plastic waste, as a way to re-design urban space and rally citizens to recycle household plastic waste in order to transform it into raw material for public furniture, via a 3D printing process.

Upprinting Food: Turning Food Waste Into Tasty Food Using 3D Printing

Did you know that worldwide, one-third of the food produced is wasted? Upprinting is a company that focuses on sustainable food printing, whereby they turn food waste into appetizing and surprisingly edible food.

Upprinting started as Elzelinde van Doleweerd’s graduation project in 2018.Van Doleweerd said: “By blending and combining the different ingredients from residual food flows, purees are created, which then are being 3D printed by a food printer. These prints are baked and dehydrated for crunch and longevity. We currently have created several recipes, both bread, and rice-based, and we are working to create new recipes all the time. “We are focusing on collaborations with high-end restaurants to help them reduce their residual food flows and to create a unique dining experience.”

To read more about companies championing3D printing check out my article on this topic here.

Final thoughts

In my view, 3D printing can most definitely be called an environmentally-friendly manufacturing solution that we are slowly seeing expand into even more industries as time goes on.

With sustainability at the forefront of everyone’s minds, 3D printing offers a green technology that we can invest time, energy and funding into whilst crucially reducing waste, encouraging recycling and decreasing costs to company and consumer.

3D printing is the future of sustainable manufacturing. There, I said it!

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