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3D printing with renewable materials - Additive Manufacturing materials become more sustainable


Sustainability in 3D printing has many different aspects, such as using less material, using digital inventories to decrease overproduction, and using renewable materials. In the last few years, various industries started to be more sustainable and produce products with a reduced carbon footprint. 

The Additive Manufacturing industry has many sustainable sites per se. However, many materials used to print 3D objects are not entirely living up to that standard. It is all the more positive that an apparent shift is challenging that site of 3D printing. There have been more and more sustainable and renewable materials in the last few years. Let’s find out which 3D materials there are!

Sustainability in 3D printing

Additive Manufacturing already has sustainable properties and is called one of the manufacturing options of the future. Its unique approach to producing objects by building layer after layer over each other decreases material waste from other manufacturing processes.

Learn more on the subject of Additive Manufacturing by exploring the Basics of 3D Printing on our Learning Hub.

AM also allows manufacturers to save materials by designing objects that use fewer materials while not losing any of their functions. Software features like Topology Optimization can optimize the 3D model while using less material. 

Using 3D printing within a supply chain also allows to make good use of a digital inventory. This cloud-based inventory cuts costs, saves space in a physical inventory, and reduces overproduction. 

Another sustainable aspect of Additive Manufacturing is the many renewable and sustainable materials. Let’s find out which one there are precisely!

3D printing with renewable materials

In 3D printing, there are different material categories, such as plastic and metal filaments, as well as resin and powder materials. When sustainable materials are discussed, filaments are usually meant. They have the broadest range of sustainable and renewed materials as of now.

Sustainable filament materials

There are different foundations for sustainable 3D printing filaments. Some are made from recycled plastics, while others use biodegradable or plant-based components. 

When it comes to recycled and renewed filaments, there are various different options available already. For example, the material supplier Refil offers ABS and PET filaments from recycled components. They mainly use the plastic of car dashboards or plastic bottles for the manufacturing process. But there are many other recycled filament options available, which are identified by an “R” in front of the product name.

  • R-PET 

R-PET is the recycled version of PET and is widely used in many industries. While PET is often made out of virgin plastic, R-PET uses plastic bottles, plastic waste from production processes, or other plastics to manufacture a recycled filament, making it a sustainable alternative. The range of recycled plastic within an R-PET filament lies between 45%-100%. 

  • R-PLA

The waste used for R-PLA often comes from failed prints or filament waste from production. Most R-PLA filaments are made out of 100% recycled waste. But of course, this does not apply to all cases, and the range may be lower. 

  • Combination of TPE and recycled tires

The combination of TPE (thermoplastic elastomer) and recycled tires is another sustainable filament option. With almost 20% of recycled tires within the filament, it transfers some of its properties as well, like goos abrasion resistance and interlayer adhesion.  

  • Recycle HIPS

Faulted window frames or thermoformed sheets from refrigerators or electronics housings are the foundation of recycled HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene). HIPS is often used as a support structure while printing with other filaments. 

Bio-based materials 

  • PLA

PLA (polylactic acid) plastic is a filament material that uses natural sources like cassava, sugar beet, corn, or sugar cane as a raw material. It is one of the most popular 3D printing materials. Under industrial composting conditions, PLA is biodegradable as well. 

  • PA11

Ultrasint® PA11 is a Forward AM powder material. It is based on a 100% renewable biomass – castor seed. Oil is made from the seed, converted into a monomer, and polymerized into Polyamide 11. This PA11 material is a sustainable alternative to PA12.

  • Biodegradable ABS

Usually, ABS is a plastic that is not biodegradable. However, due to the reformulation of its chemical properties, certain bacteria are able to consume the plastic after it has been disposed of. 

  • TPC 45D

The Ultrafuse® TPC 45D is a high-performance filament elastomer that uses 40% rapeseed oil instead of mineral oil. This bio-based and flexible material delivers high performances without a significant environmental impact. 

  • PETG

The company Redline Filaments produces an “Industrial Recycled” PETG from injection molding PETG waste. The waste does not come from virgin PETG and was not in contact with potential contaminants.

Other sustainable 3D printing materials

  • Wood PLA 

A wood filament may sound odd, but they do exist. Multiple filaments have PLA and wood fiber components. Some are up to 40% made out of wood. When a part is printed with Wood PLA, it has the unique characteristics that it smells like wood, and the finish is somewhat matte. Depending on what kind of wood fiber is used to create the filament, the printed object can have different colors such as willow, coconut, cedar, pine, etc. 

  • Algae PLA

3D Printlife Algix ALGA does not recycle old materials to create sustainable options but instead chooses another way. They use algae to produce various filaments like PLA, ABS, and Nylon. However, the product does not consist entirely of algae but also contains virgin PLA. Usually, about 20% of the filament is made out of algae. It is also beneficial for aquatic ecosystems. The rapid growth of harmful algal increases and creates a problem within the ecosystem. The development of algae increases the oxygen level and reduces the amount of fish in the waters.

  • Coffee PLA

This sustainable filament has a PLA foundation combined with coffee waste such as coffee grounds. This coffee PLA does have different properties than other filaments. It has a brownish color and is translucent to a degree. Compared to other materials, it also has a different finish, which can be beneficial when creating parts like vases or other design items.  

  • Fishing nets

Fishing nets are one of the biggest environmental problems in our oceans, and there are a lot of nets that can’t be used anymore for their intended purpose. Fishy Filaments have used those nets and converted them into Nylon filaments. As the company tries to renounce additives as much as possible, the filaments have a green color. 

In the past, the process of 3D printing created prototypes that had faults, were no longer valid, or were printing failed. Often these parts ended up in the bin. Fortunately, there is another option available now. With the help of filament maker machines from ProtoCycler or Filabot, those printed parts no longer have to dispose of but can recycle the waste and create new filaments for printing jobs. This has two practical side effects at the same time – cost savings and less material waste. The process of recycling process is straightforward. The plastic waste, such as bottles or packaging, is crushed by the machine until only plastic pellets are left. These are then heated up and extruded into a filament wrapped around a spool so it can be reused.

It is your responsibility now! Which material are you choosing?

Now it is your turn! You can choose from many different sustainable materials options to save the environment.  

As an online 3D printing service, we don’t have every sustainable material in our portfolio, but we already offer many different sustainable materials. If you don’t have a 3D printer yourself but want to print your sustainable object, we are here to help. 

Simply upload your 3D file onto our website, choose the perfect material for your object, and send it to one of our printers. We take care of the rest!

If you want to know more about the 3D printing world and other sustainable topics, we encourage you to look at our Sculpteo 3D Learning Hub and subscribe to our monthly newsletter. In case of any questions, please do not hesitate to contact our expert team, who are looking forward to answering any questions about 3D printing.

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