Impact of 3D Printing on Sustainability

By Zachary Alexander on

Most recently, 3D printing has entered the public conversation because of its impact on gun legislation. Gun rights advocates have used the posting a YouTube video showing the firing of a semi-automatic assault rifle, which was fabricated using 3D printing as a rationale for opposing new gun laws. For those tasked with supporting sustainability, the real impact of 3D printing will be on materials design.

Materials design is defined as the ability to predict and tailor the properties and response of a material for a given engineering application while controlling chemistry and processing history.[1]

This is important to those tasked with supporting sustainability because until now materials design has also been used to design recovery processes for recycling. So imagine the impact of using 3D printers to fabricate hydrogen fuel cell components. Engineers could use software to dialup the chemical formulation of fuel cell catalysts much like web designers use Photoshop to modify the color saturation of digital photos.

As you know, hydrogen convergence completely changes the economics of energy production and distribution. Farmers can produce hydrogen locally as a fuel crop much like they grow corn or switchgrass today. Microgrids can be set up using networks of idle hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. And the barriers to hydrogen innovation can be kept low, as long as low-pressure hydrogen infrastructure is deployed.

This means that 3D printing could dramatically speed up the adoption of hydrogen convergence. Now, a lot very serious people will remind you that the biggest impediment to hydrogen convergence is not technology. It’s the dinosaur mindset (i.e. cultural). The good news is that 3D printing may introduce the Maker Movement to hydrogen convergence, which a match made in heaven.

Zachary Alexander