3D Printers are becoming cheaper to buy with DIY models available at around $500. But the price of the plastic filament that they consume is still prohibitively expensive. Michigan Technological University researchers have developed a process that creates 3D printer filament from common plastic milk jugs that usually find their way to the recycler.
There are various different machines that are already available that allow the home DIY 3D printer enthusiast to make their own filament. This saves them a lot of money in materials and making their 3D printed creations a lot cheaper to make. One solution creates filament from cheap plastic pellets or another that can take recyclable plastics.
Joshua Pearce, an associate profesor of materials science and engineering and electric and computer engineering, decided to make an open-source Recyclebot which would recycle shredded milk jugs into filament. The plastic jugs are melted and forced through an extruder that creates the filament that ends up being used in their RepRap 3D printer. Although milk jugs are made with HDPE (high-density polyethylene) which isn’t ideal for 3D printing, the results were not disappointing.
They calculated that their Recyclebot consumes only 1/10th of the energy needed to make commercial 3D filament and it also used less energy than it would take to recycle the milk jugs. With the massive number of milk jugs that are used around the world Pearce is pleased that the Recyclebot may reduce the number that need to be discarded or recycled, and is also reducing the cost of 3D printing.
“Three billion people live in rural areas that have lots of plastic junk,” he says. “They could use it to make useful consumer goods for themselves. Or imagine people living by a landfill in Brazil, recycling plastic and making useful products or even just ‘fair trade filament’ to sell. Twenty milk jugs gets you about 1 kilogram of plastic filament, which currently costs $30 to $50 online.”