3D Printing Can Help Save the Environment

June 22, 2016

10:17 am

On the seventh day, God gave man a 3D printer and we pretty much took it from there. 3D printing is rapidly revolutionizing every field it enters, promising to help us design, create and possess products faster than ever before.

With this great power, we are better equipped to take on great responsibilities. The environment in particular stands to benefit enormously. Now that we can print new body parts (for the living and the dead) and create working ovaries for mice, saving the world is starting to sound entirely feasible.

Unfortunately, we aren’t yet on the cusp of printing out a new ozone layer, but 3D printing technology has added a whole other dimension to environmental conservation techniques. Also known as additive manufacturing, this technology is becoming more refined and resourceful. As time goes on, sustainable and recycled materials will be compatible and the process will produce less waste and require less energy.

Predicting Natural Disasters

Topographic maps are traditionally a two dimensional illustration showing the varying heights and gradients of a given stretch of terrain. While paper maps are growing increasingly outmoded, topographic imagery is turning into an invaluable asset for mountaineers and rescue services through to architects and surveyors.

For a number of years, geologists have also been using these maps to try and convey impending natural disasters, such as flooding and landslides to indigenous people. There has been limited success. Without proper visualization, it can be hard to explain and prepare for risks.

Cue 3D geospatial modeling. Easy to create, carry and convey important environmental safety messages, 3D landscapes informed by data from satellites designed for environmental and disaster response are becoming an increasingly utilized method of communication for geoscientists.

In Peru, for example, heavy rainfall cascades down the Andes causing devastating mudslides every year. Using 3D printing, experts can give local communities a better understanding of the landscape around them and the risks at hand. Measures to protect their own safety can, therefore, be much more creative and effective, as well as prompting short term measures such as moving to safer ground.

These printed models are being used all over the globe, addressing issues such as cliff erosion, volcanic eruption and predicting the route of ash clouds or wildfires.

Print Your Own Bicycle

A bamboo bike, created using natural resources like hemp and resin – does a more environmentally sound form of transport exist? Besides our own two legs of course, which just aren’t quite as exciting or stylish.

In London, a workshop has been set up by Bamboo Bicycle Club which teaches people how to construct their own bespoke bike frame using sustainably sourced materials and processes. The main frames of the bikes are simply bamboo rods, held together by tubular joining pieces called ‘lugs’. At the moment, lugs are made using BioFibre and a plant based resin glue.

Although environmental concerns were not initially the main drive behind this project, they’ve certainly given the industry something to think about – the glue alone has half the carbon footprint of its regular competitors.

The next leg of the journey for Bamboo Bicycle Club has been to introduce 3D printing, creating the all important lugs from carbon fibre filament. Although carbon fibre is recyclable there’s scope for much more eco-friendly options to be incorporated in the future. New filaments made from recycled plastic offer design projects such as these to grow to a national or international scale without compromising on sustainability.

With dreams of living in a world where they are more bikes in cities than cars and more fish in the sea than plastic, this kind of eco innovation is pushing 3D print design forward into a more sustainable future.

Turn Ocean Waste Into Wearable Fashion

At the moment, 1.8 million tonnes of waste material is produced by garment manufacturers each year. It is a hugely problematic, unsustainable industry. Additive manufacturing offers a way to utilize current waste, reduce the waste of production, eradicating the need for exportation and the resulting emissions and, when the garment itself is finished with, it can be easily recycled.

Abandoned fishing equipment or ‘ghost gear’ accounted for 10 percent of all ocean litter in 2009, utilizing this resource is an essential part of a desperately needed ocean clear up. 3D printing is turning possibilities and plastic into a wearable reality. Adidas for instance, have created a concept sneaker printed from recycled fishing nets.

Thankfully, more innovation is on the way. This year marks the beginning of what is set to be a revolution in 3D printed fashion. Loughborough University and clothing brand Yeh Group are joining forces to produce clothing without generating any material waste.

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Simon Davies is a London based freelance writer with an interest in startup culture, issues and solutions.

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