Additive manufacturing practices have already proven highly efficient at reducing material waste, production times, and overall manufacturing costs—but what about the cost to our environment? As the additive manufacturing and 3D printing industry continues to grow, manufacturers and makers alike are tasked with the responsibility of addressing health, safety and environmental questions associated with the technology.
While recyclable 3D printing filaments and ‘patching’ algorithms offer some green-ish relief, student researchers at UC Berkeley and the Biomimicry Institute are in pursuit of long-term, sustainable additive manufacturing solutions, particularly for 3D printing SLA resins, which are known toxins, and have already proven to be deadly to aquatic life. Their proposed solution? To save Mother Nature by drawing on biomimicry and the natural world itself. The research is being supported by 3D printing software developer Autodesk.
As the diverse and interdisciplinary team of researchers in the Greener Solutions class at the University of California Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry (UCBCGC) explain, biomimicry borrows ideas from nature to inform technological development. In fact, the process of additive manufacturing could be seen as taken from nature itself—everything from our bodies to plants and trees are ‘assembled’ using entirely sustainable biofriendly processes and 100% renewable resources. Looked at this way, nature is kind of like a giant 3D printer.
“The biosphere abounds with materials worthy of emulation. Consider the beak of the Humboldt squid. Hard, stiff, and tough, it is harder to deform than virtually all known metals and polymers, yet it is made entirely of organic tissue. It’s the hardest non-mineral material found in nature yet this same sharp appendage smoothly transitions through a gradient to the soft jelly-like body of the animal. All because of how it is made,” wrote sustainability strategists Michael Floyd and Susan Gladwin.
The humboldt squid is an excellent example of nature's ability to create organic tissues that are harder to deform than virtually all known metals and polymers
To put this idea into practice, the Fall 2015 Greener Solutions class has been challenged to use biomimicry as a lens for sustainable 3D printing materials innovation through green chemstry. Armed with eleven design strategies found in nature, the researchers are focusing specifically on transcending the limitations of stereoloithography (SLA) resins, with the ultimate goal of identifying high performance materials that are safe both for people and the environment.
The students’ work builds on related research already being conducted by the Biomimicry Institute to define ‘biofriendly’ SLA resins across the 3D printing lifecycle.
“When we think about the resin individually, we think about making it safer so that as it's being manufactured, it's safer; as it's being utilized in industry, it's safer; as it's being utilized by consumers, it's safer; and then when it enters the environment at the end of its life, it's safer. We've been thinking about resin in that kind of circular pattern,” said UCBCGC researcher Lee Ann Hill, a Master of Public Health candidate.
“I appreciate Autodesk's commitment to coming up with something that's biofriendly and recyclable, something whose long-term lifecycle impacts are taken into consideration. I’d like to see industry go that way, to incorporate all those aspects when considering what resin materials to make,” added Brian Rodriguez, also a Master of Public Health student.
The students’ work will be profiled in a series of installments by Autodesk as they continue to support this important research, so stay tuned for further updates on biomimicry design strategies for SLA 3D printing materials.
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