3D Printing from Recycled Materials

Globally, companies are embracing the ultimate sustainability solution.

3D printing offers the construction industry huge promise in virtually eliminating material waste. When you’re able to print only the materials you need, sustainability is built into every structure. Printing from recycled materials would make it the ultimate sustainability solution, and it’s one that companies around the world are beginning to embrace.

For example, Winsun, based in Shanghai, recently 3D-printed a bus stop in China made of recycled building material waste.

Some proponents believe that as much as 50 percent of the feedstock for 3D construction printers could come from recycled materials. But stringent U.S. construction codes challenge companies interested in building with untested materials. Today’s 3D printed test structures will need to demonstrate that they can provide the durability of other materials over the long haul before we see more sustainable material mixes being installed in the United States.

Still, individuals are pushing for exceptions to the tried-and-true material rules.

Concrete

Concrete formulas are popular in 3D printing for construction in part due to the flexibility of the material, which makes it easy to construct even complex shapes. Startup Cazza Construction Technologies reportedly developed a concrete mix that uses up 80 percent recycled material. It is also said to be developing a 3D-printing crane, called the Minitank, for use in Dubai that will be able to layer 2,153 square feet of concrete per day. According to Building Design & Construction, Cazza has claimed that printing with their mix using the Minitank could reduce labor and materials costs by as much as 90 percent.

RELATED: 3-D Printed Concrete: What’s Happening, What’s Ahead

Meanwhile, recycled product mixes have received approval in the European Union. 3D Printhuset printed a concrete hotel office in Copenhagen that was permitted to EU building codes. The concrete mixture includes recycled tiles and sand.

But as 3D Printhuset technical manager Jakob Jørgensen told 3DPrint.com, adding recycled materials into the concrete mix complicates things. “Recycled materials typically have a different moisture level than virgin materials, and this influences the flow and setting time of the concrete.”

Polycarbonate

Recycled plastic has served as filament for low-scale home 3D printers for some time, and now some companies are pushing to use those materials in construction.  

Lightweight recycled polycarbonate is a key ingredient in modular pods envisioned by Framlab, an innovation studio based in Olso and New York. The company designed the hexagonal pods as shelter solutions for the homeless. The idea is to attach clusters of pods to the windowless sides of existing buildings — up in the air — to take advantage of the vertical real estate. Per Framlab, “The interior is made up of organic shapes of 3D-printed plastic that — clad with wood laminate — create a warm and friendly environment.”

One study estimates that some 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic has been produced since humans invented the material, and most of it ends up in the trash. Printing structures from recycled plastic could help not just the homeless, but the planet.

Megan Headley has been writing about every aspect of the built environment since 2004. As owner of ClearStory Publications, LLC, Megan demonstrates her passion for helping contractors create more productive and safer jobsites, and more sustainable and successful projects.

Top Image Credit: Framlab