The Green 3D Printing Materials We’ve Been Waiting For

There’s no denying that 3D printing has moved beyond the laboratory and into the mainstream. We’ve seen 3D printed body parts, electronics, and toys. Although the technology has quickly become quite sophisticated, the materials used in 3D printers have been slow to catch up.

Though the idea of print-you-own has big green implications, there’s nothing earth-friendly about an uptick in plastic junk floating around the planet. That’s why we’re so excited about the work of Emerging Objects, a two-architect outfit that teaches 3D printing in Berkeley. Founders Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello are working to move the trend away from plastic and toward far more sustainable materials like wood, salt, and clay.

emerging objects salt bowl

Image via Emerging Objects

“Emerging Objects is interested in the creation of 3D printed buildings, building components and interior accessories that can be seen as sustainable, inexpensive, stronger, smarter, recyclable, customizable and perhaps even reparable to the environment,” write the architects. “We want to 3D print long-lasting performance-based designs for the built environment using raw materials that have strength, tactility, cultural associations, relevance and beauty.”

So far, the team and their students have successfully created gorgeous 3D printed objects using salt harvested from San Francisco Bay, wood pulp, and clay, and a standard powerder-based printer. Each of these materials is recyclable, and in some cases, recycled. The results are bricks, components, and furniture that look like they just walked out of a high-end catalog.

emerging objects 3D printed wood

Image via Emerging Objects

“It’s all super strong,” points out Gizmodo, “thanks to reinforcement techniques developed in-house—their printed cement is actually stronger than standard stuff. But most importantly? It’s 90 percent less expensive than current 3D printing technology.”

Rael and Fratello continue to perfect their materials, and, if all goes well, plan to launch a spin-off company that will sell their eco-friendly material mixes by the pound–starting with cement.

Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

    • Anthony Glassman

      There are also efforts underway to 3D print in plastic using empty soda, water and milk bottles–you toss them in a hopper, they get chopped up and melted into the material the printer uses.

      • ThoughtsIHave

        Yes and it’s not working well so far. Filabot seemed to have given up and is now just printing 3mm not shipping out machines. :-(