3D Printing & Climate Change
(3D Printing Industry) Data from a variety of sources examines the potential positive and negative consequences that 3D printing has — and will have — on the environment, as the technology becomes more widespread.
Nilima Choudhury has published an essay entitled “How Green is 3D Printing?” that addresses the environmental sustainability of 3D printing/additive manufacturing. She cites estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy that AM could be a $5 billion industry by 2020.
Dr Martin Baumers, a professor at the University of Nottingham’s EPSRC Centre of Innovative Manufacturing in Additive Manufacturing, for instance, told Choudhury what many that are familiar with 3D printing already know: compared to subtractive manufacturing, additive manufacturing uses a lot less material and, therefore, creates a lot less wasted byproduct. While many have used this fact alone to propose the sustainability of 3D printing, they may overlook other key factors.
The ATKINS project, a research endeavor conducted by Loughborough University and industry experts to determine 3D printing’s carbon footprint, discovered that 3D printing may not always be so green when it comes to energy use.
Nick Owen, director of manufacturing firm 3D Print UK, explained that, because 3D printing produces fewer items in the same span of time as injection-moulding, it can be much less efficient. Owen also pointed out that, in the case of filament recyclers, like the Filabot, the quality of plastic that may be reused degrades over time. This makes recycled plastic more prone to breaking with each re-use.
Author summarizes by commenting that 3D printing is a step in the right direction, but believes there’s still more to be done.