A Lifecycle economic analysis on 3D printing has concluded that 3D Printing is not only cheaper but also greener.
Michigan Technological University's Joshua Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering' study showed that making stuff on a 3D printer uses less energy - and therefore releases less carbon dioxide - than producing it in a factory and shipping it to a warehouse.
Pearce and his team conducted life cycle impact analyses on three products: an orange juicer, a children's building block and a waterspout. The cradle-to-gate analysis of energy use went from raw material extraction to one of two endpoints: entry into the US for an item manufactured overseas or printing it a home on a 3D printer.
The team discovered making the items on a basic 3D printer took from 41 percent to 64 percent less energy than making them in a factory and shipping them to the US.
3D printing can save energy by using less raw material. "Children's blocks for example are normally made of solid wood or plastic," said Pearce. 3D printed blocks can be made partially or even completely hollow, requiring much less plastic.
Their analysis with two common types of plastic filament used in 3D printing, including polylactic acid (PLA). PLA is made from renewable resources, such as cornstarch, making it a greener alternative to petroleum-based plastics. The team also did a separate analysis on products made using solar-powered 3D printers, which drove down the environmental impact even further.
The bottom line is, we can get substantial reductions in energy and CO2 emissions from making things at home," Pearce said. "And the home manufacturer would be motivated to do the right thing and use less energy, because it costs so much less to make things on a 3D printer than to buy them off the shelf or on the Internet."
The study is described in paper "Environmental Life Cycle Analysis of Distributed 3D Printing and Conventional Manufacturing of Polymer Products" which is in press in the journal ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering.