Workers at Protoprint in Pune, India, prepare a container of plastic bottles to be converted into filament for 3D printers.
Give someone a 3D printer, and she'll make something cool; teach someone to use a 3D printer for sustainability, and she might change the world.
We've seen a variety of 3D-printed projects spring up over the last two years — frommedical splints to houses to guns — and most fanatics will gladly argue that it's only the beginning of a revolutionary distribution movement.
Ideally, 3D printing itself is a largely sustainable concept — but a few projects, which we've highlighted below, take it to a whole different level.
Protoprint was founded in early 2013 by Sidhant Pai, an environmental engineering student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the summer of 2012, Pai had been researching low-cost recycling technology around the same time his father began dabbling in 3D printing as a hobby.
"[I realized] that 3D printer filament" — the plastic, coil-like material used to mold 3D-printed creations — "was basic in its chemical composition. So, we started looking into whether it was possible to recycle the filament from waste plastic," he says.
It was. After a brief research period, Pai partnered with Pune, India-based cooperative SWaCH, which employs "pickers" to sort through the city's waste bins for plastic bottles. They developed a system: After the pickers collect the bottles, workers wash and run them through a FlakerBot shredding machine, and then melt the plastic and spool it into reels of filament.
"This really bridges the gap between cutting-edge technology and grassroots recycling," Pai says.
The group is in its final stages of its pilot launch, and plans to begin commercial production by the end of the summer.
2. Amsterdam's Canal House
The 3D Print Canal House project, based in Amsterdam, claims to be constructing the world's first 3D-printed house.
Dus Architects announced the idea in 2013. The firm will print out blocks of plastic, using a specialized printer called the Kamermaker, and stack them together like Legos to build the 13-story canal-style complex.
The idea is to eliminate both waste and the cost of transporting typical material needed for building, like lumber, steel and cement. As of now, the printer runs on bioplastics, but has the capacity to melt anything that will mold at a low temperature. Similar to Protoprint, Dus Architects is considering using recycled materials — even wood pallets and natural stone waste.
According to the Guardian, the group began construction on the house at the end of March. But the project's website says the ordeal will likely take up to three years to complete. For now, anyone can take a tour of the physical site, for a small fee.
WASP is a team of Italian-based 3D printer enthusiasts who also have their eyes on the housing market.
The group is most well-known for the PowerWasp, a 3D printer that's able to use clay as filament, while also doubling as a milling machine. Founder Massimo Moretti hopes to use his machines to create cheap, affordable housing in poor areas of the world. That kind of machine is still in development — but in the meantime, his team is self-funding its research by selling the PowerWasp at low costs to aspiring entrepreneurs in lower income areas.
For their efforts, the group won the Green Award at last year's 3D Printshow in London.