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Earth Day 2016: 10 3D printing projects contributing to a greener planet

Today marks the 46th annual Earth Day, a global celebration and awareness campaign that is all about protecting and saving this beautiful planet we call home. Despite being around for almost 50 years, however, Earth Day 2016 just might be the most important one yet.

In the past year, Earth has seen monthly temperatures reach record highsArctic ice levels plummet to new lows, and CO2 levels spike like never before. Meanwhile, the average American is producing four pounds of garbage and consuming 100 gallons of water every day.

There is, however, at least some good news. In November 2015, influential leaders from around the world gathered in Paris for COP21, where they committed to taking real action against climate change. Increased awareness and infrastructure has also helped bring recycling rates up from less than 10% in the 1980s to around 34% today, and that number should continue to rise.

Still, it is obvious that more needs to be done. Luckily, the 3D printing industry—which has been committed to reducing energy consumption, material waste, and transportation emissions from the start—has some very promising solutions.

From preserving our oceans, to producing clean energy, to finding a beautiful way to re-use old water bottles, check out the list below to see how 3D printing can make every day Earth Day.

3D printing project #1: Turn your water bottle in an elegant 3D printed vase

One of the biggest misconceptions about fighting climate change is that it’s an all-or-nothing game. But you don’t have to live in a cabin or drop $100K on an electric car to do your part in saving the planet. Every small act counts, including recycling or upcycling everyday items you would otherwise throw away.

This brilliant yet simple 3D printed project allows you to do just that, by taking a boring and trashy old water bottle and re-inventing it as a beautiful and decorative flower vase. Created by Libero Rutilo ofDesign Libero, the 3D vases are mesh-like shells that slide overtop of PET bottles and then screw on, just like a cap, to stay in place. This way, the bottle stays out of the trash, but also out of sight.

Rutilo has designed four beautiful and bio-inspired patterns: iSinuous, iKnitted, iLace, and iSpider, all of which can be purchased as digital files and 3D printed at home. Simple, stylish, and decidedly sustainable: perfect for 3D printing this Earth Day.

3D printing project #2: 3DPonics 3D printed hydroponics lets you grow your own food

3DPonics is an open-source initiative to develop affordable and 3D printable urban food gardens. Hydroponics is a very sustainable and easy way to grow healthy, natural food indoors, as it requires very little energy, no pesticides, and no messy soil. 3DPonics makes it even easier, by providing users with free, customizable and 3D printable blueprints to create their own hydroponics systems at home using little more than old PET bottles and a single air pump.

Why is this so great for the environment? Growing food at home supports local agriculture, reduces transportation emissions and packaging waste, encourages healthy eating, and can even educate children about ecosystems and STEM foundations!

“3Dponics is much more than just a personal hydroponics garden,” said the company. “We see it as a realistic solution to a number of today’s problems, from the rising cost of produce to food insecurity and climate change.”

For less-intensive 3D printed home garden projects, check out this DIY 3D printed herb garden or adorable 3D printed plant wall mount, both available as free downloads.

3D printing project #3: 3D printed water and wind turbines produce clean energy

One of the biggest contributing factors to pollution and climate change is our reliance on fossil fuels. Therefore, it is incredibly important to find affordable and accessible ways to harness clean energy from natural resources, including wind and water.

Recently, several 3D printing initiatives have proven that this is possible. In the wind department, Kansas-based Michael Curry has 3D printed a wind turbine that generates up to 9 volts of electrical power from just a slight breeze. In nearby Minneapolis, Verterra Energy is prototyping an innovative 3D printed water turbine that could be used to produce sustainable hydropower.

For a smaller-scale project that you can actually assemble at home, check out Léo Sexer’s Raflesia: a mini 3D-printed wind turbine that latches onto subway grates or air conditioning units and harvests clean energy for personal use.

3D printing project #4: ORNL 3D prints house and car that power each other with clean fuel

Speaking of renewable energy, we couldn’t leave out this amazing project by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which used the BAAM (Big Area Additive Manufacturing) machine to 3D print an entire carand house that produce and share clean power—a step towards solving both the housing crisis and climate change in one go.

The single-unit 3D printed house is solar-powered and harvests energy during the day that can be transferred between the house and car as needed. At night, the natural-gas-powered car can itself provide energy back to the house.

3D printing project #5: Adidas unveils 3D printed shoe made from plastic ocean waste

On the occasion of COP21, sportswear giant Adidas and Parley for the Oceans collaborated to develop a sustainably manufactured running shoe made from recycled ocean waste and Adidas’ 3D printed Futurecraft 3D midsole.

The Futurecraft 3D midsole was developed in partnership with Adidas at Materialise. Through customization technology and advanced 3D printing materials, the 3D printed midsole offers unprecedented support and cushioning for athletes, tailored to their individual foot shapes and pressure points.

With the Ocean Plastic shoe, Adidas took this product even further. Instead of traditional polymers, the stylish aquamarine midsole was 3D printed from recycled polyester and discarded plastic gill net content recovered from the sea, representing an eco-friendly combination of fashion and technology.

The 3D printed Ocean Plastic shoe is a clear statement from Adidas and Parley that we cannot simply sit back and wait for politicians to draft up vague environmental laws—it is up to us as creatives and consumers to take effective steps towards climate change action.

3D printing project #6: Faircap 3D printed water filters provide clean water for just $1

A clean Earth needs clean water, yet one billion people worldwide do not have access to safe water, and are at risk of fatal water-related diseases. Hoping to solve this global crisis is the Faircap Project, a collaborative, open source clean water initiative that is using 3D printing to create water filtration devices for just one dollar.

Once again, the project centers around recycling used water bottles, however rather than turning them into decorations, they could provide life-saving drinkable water to those in need.

The Faircap 3D printed water filter is able to filter particles, chemicals, bacteria and viruses from the dirtiest of water, all while fitting onto a standard sized water bottle. To make one, all you need is a 3D printer, food-grade, FDA approved PET plastic filament, the free STL files, and household items such as charcoal from a BBQ, cotton swabs, and an empty 5-8 liter water jug.

The Faircap Project is currently open for pre-orders, donations, and of course, open-source collaboration to improve the 3D printed filter system.

3D printing project #7: 3D printed solar Smart Palm keeps Dubai connected

Dubai plans to be the most sustainable city in the world by 2050, and 3D printing is playing a huge role in getting it there. Recently, it unveiled a series of ‘Smart Palms’: tree-shaped, solar-powered technology hubs that offer free WiFi and gadget charging stations to keep Dubai’s residents sustainably connected.

The first 3D printed Smart Palm was made from a fiber-reinforced plastic material that is both lightweight and durable. Like the previous models, it features solar panels that can harness up to 7.2 kilowatts of clean energy per day.

3D printing project #8: 3D printed reefs help restore ocean floor

Ocean reefs are an integral part of marine biodiversity, protecting and nurturing some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. However, due to global warming and ocean pollutants, we are witnessing potentially the largest coral die-off in history.

A few years ago Enrico Dini, co-creator of the D-Shape 3D printer (one of the largest 3D printers in the world) set out to try and restore some of that loss by 3D printing massive reefs using a mixture of natural sand and seawater-based binder. Recently, some of those 3D printed reefs, made in collaboration with Boskalis and the Prince Albert II Foundation, were installed at a marine reserve in Monaco.

Though no replacement for the real deal, these sand-based 3D printed reefs can help protect marine biodiversity and at least slow down coastal damage while we work to ultimately stop global warming and regrow natural habitats.

3D printing project #9: Fake 3D printed sea turtle eggs help track and stop poachers

Part of Earth Day’s mission to protect the planet is to protect its animal inhabitants. Unfortunately, every year a growing number of species is added to the ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ list as they are illegally hunted, or their homes destroyed by man-made pollution and construction. Sea turtles are among those threatened animals, as poachers dig up and steal their eggs before they even have a chance to hatch.

In an effort to fight back, nonprofit organization Paso Pacifico has come up with a brilliant plan: they are3D printing fake sea turtle eggs that will be able to track poachers, and eventually deter them once and for all.

Though still in prototype-phase, the 3D printed eggs will be equipped with GSM technology and hidden amongst real eggs. Once stolen, conservationists believe they will be able to track the eggs and find out important information about sea turtle egg trafficking routes and the locations of smuggling networks. Even better, they believe that if poachers think they will be tracked, they might not even steal the eggs in the first place!

3D printing project #10: Go green with recycled and recyclable 3D printing filaments

Finally, one of the easiest ways to greenify your own 3D printing projects is to choose your materials responsibly. While failed prints and support structures will always be a part of 3D printing, there’s no reason they must be made with virgin, non-recycled plastics, as the majority of filaments today are.

Several 3D printing filament companies have therefore been developing either recycled or recyclable 3D printing materials to give makers more sustainable options. For example, to celebrate Earth Day 2015, 3D Fuel and ALGIX developed a unique algae-based 3D printing filament called Algae Fuel. The material is a PLA composite mixed with natural algae that is harvested from areas where it already grows in excess, solving both our materials problem and a very real ecological problem.

Algae-based filament is just one example of a more eco-friendly 3D printing material. Several other companies have also developed conscious consumables out of everything from coffee grounds to plastic beer cups. These include 3DomBetter Future Factory’s Refil, the Precious Plastic project, and 3DBrooklyn, which has found a way to make 3D printing filament from potato chip bags, to name just a few.

Additive manufacturing is already making its mark on a wide range of industries—from healthcare to aerospace to consumer goods and more. But if it’s to leave its mark on the planet, we must do we what we can ensure it is a positive one.

Do you know of any other great eco-friendly 3D printing initiatives or DIY 3D printing projects for this Earth Day? Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter.


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