Covestro’s Biobased Polymer Makes Sustainable 3D Printing Possible

In an effort to provide an eco-friendly alternative to traditional plastic and create a greener future, the German materials manufacturer Covestro has teamed up with companies like JuggerBot 3D, TA Systems and DSM Additive Manufacturing. Together, they have created a new, more sustainable PA410 polymer and conducted an extensive Life Cycle Analysis.

We are once again focussing on an issue on everyone’s mind and the driving motivation behind lots of changes in the printing industry today: sustainability. Don’t feel like reading about it anymore? Don’t worry and don’t switch to another website, because with this article about the German materials manufacturer Covestro and their new, green plastics polymer, we are presenting a whole new take on the subject! While plastics producers are starting to struggle with the challenge of making their material more sustainable and giving it a green appearance, Covestro wants to be part of a global solution to climate change and pollution by turning towards eco-friendly solutions and gearing towards a circular future. To achieve this ambitious goal, they are working with other companies such as JuggerBot 3D, using additive manufacturing and the power of print.

Everything Is Plastic

Plastic is often viewed as the number one enemy to a green future. It is everywhere and it is here to stay. The material group is rarely and only under certain circumstances biodegradable – a scientific study by a team of researchers from the US found that only 9 % of all plastics between 1950 and 2015 have been recycled which is a great problem since it has been mass produced continuously since 1940 and established itself as a convenient part of our daily lives since its invention in the 20th century.

Covestro has long been growing its stake in the additive manufacturing industry and therefore also acquired the DSM Resins & Functional Materials businesses back in September 2020. They are aiming to form a circular economy and create a proactive approach to the issue with a change in mindset, a full understanding of a material’s life cycle, including but not limited to the ecological impact of 3D printing, and new bio-based materials and recycling technologies.

Focussing first and foremost on a change in people’s mindset, it is clear to the materials manufacturer that the linear economy and our attitudes towards consumption and waste cannot provide a desirable future. They want to go back to producing longer-lasting products, minimize waste during production as well as the use of limited resources and recycling whenever possible. This is where they intend to rely most on additive manufacturing. Covestro is aiming to manufacture their plastics in a truly sustainable and climate-neutral way with alternative raw materials and renewable energy. Their approach can be adapted in every field of work and market. One of their results is bringing to market partially bio-based polymers for 3D printing. 

The Biobased Polymer

A key step in the transition to a circular economy for plastic additive manufacturing is the Life Cycle Assessment, short LCA. Covestro recently collaborated with JuggerBot 3D to conduct an LCA for EcoPaXX® AM4001 GF (G), a reinforced glass fiber for fused granulate fabrication (FGF) 3D printing, consisting to 42 % of biobased PA410 polymer. The material is partially derived from castor plants and works especially well for 3D printing projects as it is characterized by a high modulus and tensile strength as well as excellent thermal and hydrolysis resistance. As a pellet material, it is also engineered specifically for easy processing with a good chemical resistance and heat deflection of up to 230 °C, providing a “versatile polymers toolkit for industrial AM”. Applications for the new material include structural, lightweight automotive components, jigs and fixtures as well as products for the healthcare industry, all applicable with the help of print:

“Innovative 3D printing provides some unexpected hindsight into centuries of manufacturing techniques which, despite their many differences, all added value by subtracting material. 3D printing or additive manufacturing takes the opposite approach and creates a new object, layer by layer, starting from scratch. Instead of relying on a complex machine park, production is radically simplified thanks to one very powerful machine: the 3D printer,”

Covestro claims in the story on additive manufacturing on their solution center website.

To process the material and partake in the LCA of Covestro’s reinforced glass fiber, JuggerBot 3D’s technology has so far been used to deliver a comprehensive result, revealing an ~35% carbon footprint reduction compared to unfilled PA6. JuggerBot 3D worked with a power meter for its large-format pellet-based 3D printer, the Tradesman Series™ P3-44, to conduct reliable data on the printing process. The knowledge derived from an LCA is valuable to product developers and established manufacturers everywhere, who are seeking to minimize their ecological footprint. And Covestro is eager to share their insights and use their recently acquired business branch DSM Additive Manufacturing aid in improving production of critical assembly line parts, making the switch to additive manufacturing:

“Beyond our industry expertise and tunable materials, we also collaborate with machine manufacturers to optimize both hardware and our polymer materials for high-speed processes. Our comprehensive approach addresses relevant challenges on the road to industrial AM, so that more sustainable and individual production may soon become a viable, widespread reality.”

The team also worked on a project with TA Systems that led to an up to 50 % reduction in waste and reduced lead times largely due to the characteristic 3D printing technique of building objects layer-by-layer instead of by cutting away at a raw material.

End Plastic Waste

The last step in their proactive approach to a sustainable and green future is advancing recycling technologies. They are also part of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste to achieve this goal. Focussing on advancing chemical recycling, – an emerging technology that creates secondary raw materials that can then be used to produce new plastics by breaking the recyclables down – Covestro wants to provide a tool that enables easy options for circular economy.

“At Covestro we are convinced plastics are far too valuable to end up in the environment. All waste should be regarded as a resource. We believe this alliance is a significant step to drive innovation, develop strategic partnerships and mature waste-to-value concepts into economically viable sustainable solutions,”

says Covestro CEO Dr. Markus Steilemann. 3D printing directly influences material waste and therefore has great potential to contribute in making the dream of a greener future come true. We are excited to see their journey!

Did you catch Covestro and JuggerBot 3D’s online webinar “Additive Manufacturing Trends: Printing High Strength Composites” in May? Do you think you already have all the information you need to make your business “go green” or are you still looking for the right approach for you?