Nov 13, 2015 | By Alec

Considering the vast amounts of plastic we as a community consume, recycling as a theme should be on the 3D printing agenda way more often. However, in terms of volume ,the real problem isn’t in PLA or ABS. While equipment exists to recycle those commonly used 3D printing materials, the vast majority of other plastics used in society cannot be recycled into 3D printable filament. A new promising student project, by a team from Michigan Tech, is seeking to change that and they have won a Ford research grant to make that possible.

The Michigan Tech team in question is the Open Source Hardware Enterprise. Avid 3D printers themselves, the team goes through quite a lot of rolls of filament in a semester, and are seeking to find a more sustainable solution. Consisting of Ian Peoples, Lucas Wilder, Andrew Schaub and Peter Gorecki (headed by Associate Professor Joshua Pearce), they have set their sights on the more commonly used plastics – for instance from plastic bottles and milk jugs.

That concept wowed the jury from the Ford College Community Challenge enough to name their team one of the winners of a $25,000 grant to make their theories reality. This fund is all part of the philantrophic arm of the Ford Motor Company, and is currently in its eighth year of financing student ideas for practical, sustainable community solutions. Every year, ten grants of $25,000 are awarded, and each winning team are required to come up with considered proposals for sustainable solutions in fields such as water conservation, urban gardening, renewable energy and recycling. ‘Innovation and sustainability are two essential elements that will help strengthen communities and improve the quality of life for the people who call them home,’ says director of education and community development Mike Schmidt of the project. ‘Education is how we open the door to a better world and inspire a new generation of engineers and entrepreneurs to lead us into a successful future.’

So what will that money be used for? Well, the concept is fairly straightforward, the student team explains. Get their hands on a RecycleBot, rebuild it to be able to recycle No. 1 and 2 plastics and create a whole bunch of 3D printable filament. The RecycleBot, as you might know, is a cheap filament solution, spending about a $1 or so on filament.

The only problem is that it only works on No. 7 plastics, which includes PLA and ABS. Both are malleable when heated and solid when cool, making them perfect for multiple processing runs. That, sadly, doesn’t really work for No. 1 (EPT) and No. 2 (HDPE) plastics. ‘PET is hard to get in useable form where you can actually make filament. You have to get it dry and get the temperature just right, or rather than plastic thread, you’ll get burned plastic and water,’ they say of the material. EPT is especially used for bottles and jugs.

No. 2 plastics, that are often used for toys and shampoo bottles, however, are easier to work with and the student team has already had some recycling success with them. Over the coming months, the idea is to refine the recycling process for both to produce filaments, and to make the process scalable. ‘We are grateful to the Ford Motor Company Fund for supporting this project that will demonstrate how plastics that are recycled in our community can be converted locally into commercial products,’ said Pete Cattelino, associate director of industry relations at Michigan Tech. ‘The university works very closely with Ford on automotive-related projects. It’s also great to have a project outside the automotive focus that will make a difference for the environment and our community.’

The first results of this recycling project are expected in the spring of 2016, when the team will have to present their work to Ford.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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