Commenced in January 2007
Frequency: Monthly
Edition: International
Paper Count: 31113
Does Material Choice Drive Sustainability of 3D Printing?

Authors: Jeremy Faludi, Zhongyin Hu, Shahd Alrashed, Christopher Braunholz, Suneesh Kaul, Leulekal Kassaye


Environmental impacts of six 3D printers using various materials were compared to determine if material choice drove sustainability, or if other factors such as machine type, machine size, or machine utilization dominate. Cradle-to-grave life-cycle assessments were performed, comparing a commercial-scale FDM machine printing in ABS plastic, a desktop FDM machine printing in ABS, a desktop FDM machine printing in PET and PLA plastics, a polyjet machine printing in its proprietary polymer, an SLA machine printing in its polymer, and an inkjet machine hacked to print in salt and dextrose. All scenarios were scored using ReCiPe Endpoint H methodology to combine multiple impact categories, comparing environmental impacts per part made for several scenarios per machine. Results showed that most printers’ ecological impacts were dominated by electricity use, not materials, and the changes in electricity use due to different plastics was not significant compared to variation from one machine to another. Variation in machine idle time determined impacts per part most strongly. However, material impacts were quite important for the inkjet printer hacked to print in salt: In its optimal scenario, it had up to 1/38th the impacts coreper part as the worst-performing machine in the same scenario. If salt parts were infused with epoxy to make them more physically robust, then much of this advantage disappeared, and material impacts actually dominated or equaled electricity use. Future studies should also measure DMLS and SLS processes / materials.

Keywords: Sustainability, Life-cycle assessment, Additive manufacturing, design for environment

Digital Object Identifier (DOI):

Procedia APA BibTeX Chicago EndNote Harvard JSON MLA RIS XML ISO 690 PDF Downloads 3187


[1] 3D Hubs. “Trend Report June,” Accessed 13 Jun 2014 from http://www.3dhub
[2] D. Freedman, "Layer by layer," Technology Review 115.1, pp. 50-53, 2012.
[3] C. Reynders, “3D printers create a blueprint for future of sustainable design and production,” The Guardian, Friday 21 March 2014. Accessed Sep 15 2014 from blueprint-future-sustainable-design-production .
[4] M. Huijbregts et al., “Ecological footprint accounting in the life cycle assessment of products,” Ecological Economics 64.4, pp. 798-807, 2008.
[5] R. Armstrong, “Is There Something Beyond ‘Outside of the Box’?” Architectural Design 81.6, pp. 130-133, 2011.
[6] J. Faludi, C. Bayley, M. Iribane, S. Bhogal, “Comparing Environmental Impacts of Additive Manufacturing vs. Traditional Machining via Life- Cycle Assessment,” Journal of Rapid be published 2015.
[7] J. Faludi, R. Ganeriwala, B. Kelly, T. Rygg, T. Yang, “Sustainability of 3D Printing vs. Machining: Do Machine Type & Size Matter?” Accepted for publication in Proceedings of EcoBalance Conference, Japan 2014.
[8] D. Southerland, P. Walters, and D. Huson, “Edible 3D printing,” NIP & Digital Fabrication Conference, Vol. 2011 No. 2, Society for Imaging Science and Technology, 2011.
[9] T. Anderson and J. Bredt, “Method of three dimensional printing,” U.S. Patent No. 5,902,441, 11 May 1999.
[10] H. Lipson and M. Kurman, Fabricated: The new world of 3D printing, John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
[11] P. Mognol et al., “Rapid prototyping: energy and environment in the spotlight,” Rapid Prototyping Journal 12.1, pp. 26-34, 2006.
[12] M. Baumers et al. “Sustainability of additive manufacturing: measuring the energy consumption of the laser sintering process,” Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part B: Journal of Engineering Manufacture 225.12, pp. 2228-2239, 2011.
[13] C. Telenko and C. Seepersad, “A comparison of the energy efficiency of selective laser sintering and injection molding of nylon parts,” Rapid Prototyping Journal 18.6, pp. 472-481, 2012.
[14] A. Drizo, and J. Pegna, “Environmental impacts of rapid prototyping: an overview of research to date,” Rapid Prototyping Journal 12.2, pp. 64- 71, 2006.
[15] B. Stephens et al., “Ultrafine particle emissions from desktop 3D printers,” Atmospheric Environment 79, pp. 334-339, 2013.
[16] Y. Luo et al. “Environmental performance analysis of solid freedom fabrication processes,” Proceedings of the 1999 IEEE International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, pp. 1-6, 1999.
[17] M. Goedkoop et al. ReCiPe 2008: A life cycle impact assessment method which comprises harmonised category indicators at the midpoint and the endpoint level, Pré Consultants, 2009.
[18] M. Tabone et al., “Sustainability metrics: life cycle assessment and green design in polymers,” Environmental Science & Technology 44.21, pp. 8264-8269, 2010.
[19] M. Rossi et al., “Design for the Next Generation: Incorporating Cradleto- Cradle Design into Herman Miller Products,” Journal of Industrial Ecology 10.4, pp. 193-210, 2006.
[20] B. Evans, Practical 3D Printers, Apress, 2012.
[21] RepRap community, “Powder Printer Recipes,” RepRap Wiki. Accessed Aug 24 2014 from Recipes.
[22] O. Jolliet et al., “IMPACT 2002+: a new life cycle impact assessment methodology,” International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment 8.6, pp. 324-330, 2003.