US military researchers have developed a way to use recycled bottles and other refuse materials to 3D-print replacement parts for soldiers in the field.
Military personnel stationed around the world often have a long wait when they need a critical replacement part. Now, the US Army Research Lab (ARL) and the US Marine Corps have partnered to develop a way to kill two birds with one stone by recycling the plastic bottles and bags the military uses and 3D-printing needed materials in the field.
Nicole Zander, a researcher at ARL, and US Marine Corps Capt. Anthony Molnar are working on a joint project to break down recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic into filament to use as a starting material for 3D printers. The material then can be fabricated into plastic parts for radios, canteens, and other items soldiers can use in the field.
In an attempt to mitigate the environmental impact of 3D printing, several organizations have taken to creating recycled filament, made not only from failed prints but from water bottles and other garbage. Inexpensive filament extruders are also available to allow makers to make their own filament from recyclable materials. Not only does recycled filament help the environment, but it also helps 3D printer users to save money and be more self-sufficient, making the technology more viable in remote communities.
A recent series of major developments and events has created a new impetus for 3D printing plastic recycling. 3D printing of recycled plastics has multiple benefits, including lower costs and control over the amount of materials that can be used by 3D printers. Currently, 3D printing filament is produced by melting down virgin plastic pellets and extruding the melted plastic through a circular die which is then rolled up into spools. Printing with pellets or recycled materials is more cost effective and energy efficient than printing with new plastic filaments. In addition, direct printing of plastic pellets eliminates the need for further processing and therefore makes them less expensive.
Plastic has always been one of the leading 3D printer material categories. Now there is an expanding global concern about the amount of plastic product waste and in particular its negative impact on oceans and waterways. Improved pellet 3D printing recycling technology can play an important part in helping solve this environmental problem. 3D printing product developers, engineers, designers and environmentalists working on pellet recycling projects have the opportunity to earn US R&D tax credits.
Now the Marine Corps and the US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) are working together to improve both self-reliance and sustainability through 3D printing. The research team is examining the recycling of waste plastic, such as that from water bottles, milk jugs and yogurt containers, to make 3D printer filament.
The use of recycled materials together with the mass customization and faster end-to-end cycle times that 3D printing enables promise to advance the incidence of the circular economy.
When it comes to 3D printing materials, you won’t come across a more popular choice than plastic – there are all sorts of plastics to choose from, and it’s also the cheapest of the 3D printing materials. However, plastic definitely has its issues – landfills around the world are filling up with plastics, and the material is depleting fossil feedstocks, as well as forming CO2 in production and combustion processes. A team of researchers with the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) in Moscow have developed a 3D printable polymer made entirely from biomass that negates these issues.
Is the minimal waste process creating too much waste? If we can recycle prints and other materials this way, it might lead to a revolution of decentralized recyclers
Growth in 3D printing marches on at an annual 26% clip. While new printers keep increasing the print speeds and range of materials that can be used, data on recycling these materials has been sparse. In July 2017, CNBC reported the world has produced over 9 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, and only about 9% was recycled. If 3D printing is going to further increase plastic consumption, will there be a pile of plastic prototypes lining the landfills?