Mar 17, 2017 | By David

New ways in which 3D printing can be used to help out the environment are always welcome, and lessening the technology’s own environmental impact is something that will become more and more important in the years to come. A UK startup has an ingenious recycling idea that, to use a rather inappropriate metaphor, kills both of these birds with one stone. Fishy Filaments plans to repurpose used fishing nets as filament for 3D printers, and is currently raising funds to move its project from the initial research phase into a commercial operation.

Fishy Filaments was established as part of a new materials innovation concept, Creative Metallurgy, run by Ian Falconer, whose background is in materials science and geology. Based in Cornwall, on the south coast of England, he saw the negative effects that the commercial fishing industry was having on the local environment, as nylon nets that were at the end of their life were simply discarded in the water or thrown into huge landfills. Not only this, but many other waste plastics were dredged up from the sea by fishermen, before being disposed of in the same landfills.

Falconer saw an opportunity to make a commercially viable product from all this waste, at the same time as reducing the space taken up by landfills and the potential harms they can cause. By taking advantage of the burgeoning 3D printing industry and the demand it creates for cheap plastic or nylon, he hopes to transform an environmental liability into an economic asset, capturing the raw value of the materials that were being disposed of so carelessly. The idea is simple but will hopefully be very effective. '‘We just take marine litter straight from the sea, wash it, shred it and reform it as 3D printer filament’', he says. The used nets and other materials are manually collected by recycling initiatives run by Newlyn Pier & Harbourmaster, including Fishing For Litter, before being processed locally. The processing of the materials involves simple mechanical processes, without the need for any potentially harmful chemicals. According to Falconer, '‘It’s ugly as hell, but works and has the potential to be a real game changer.’'

Last year Fishy Filaments demonstrated a successful use of its 3D printing filament for the first time. A commercially available, low-cost 3D printer was able to print using the nylon filament, showing the potential for widespread demand for the product when it is eventually released to the market. Other types of filament have also been planned for production in the near future. The startup is exploring the potential for a carbon-fibrer enhanced version of its nylon filament using local boat and board-building wastes, and a second filament material made from large polyethylene trawl nets. Currently at the conceptual stage is a third filament, which will be a dissolvable support material.

Fishy Filaments’ crowdfunding campaign to take this 3D printer filament project to the next level has just gone live today, and it is looking to raise £5000. This will go towards a fully costed commercial feasibility study, which will require a new extruder to melt the netting strands together as well as a reel to collect it all. The company's stated aim is to provide a product that all users can be both confident in and proud to use, safe in the knowledge that they are contributing to lower oil use, lower energy use and a cleaner environment.

As 3D printing technology grows in popularity, we hope to see the industry source more of its materials in such a responsible and innovative way. Considering the very real ecological problems that we face as a society, it is more important than ever for companies like Fishy Filaments to show us that one fisherman’s waste can be another man’s 3D printing treasure.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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Eric Spidell wrote at 3/18/2017 12:27:54 AM:

Why does this article make me think of the Simpson's episode when Montgomery Burns decided to start recycling?

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