3D printing is a profoundly disruptive innovation, with diverse applications in product manufacturing, medicine, and building. The technology has various sustainability ramifications, both positive and questionable. The most common form of 3D printing to date is the tabletop models using thermoplastic resins as feedstock. (The MakerBot is one example.) The use of virgin plastic (PLA, ABS, or PVA) raises materials efficiency questions. It’s not difficult to envision thousands of studios, homes and offices filled with half-realized and rejected prototypes and design iterations. On the other hand, the technology offers huge opportunities for hyper-local manufacturing and supply chain leapfrogging.
Artist Markus Kayser developed a 3D printer that uses sunlight as its power source and sand as the raw material. I think the results are stunning.
Adapted to function at the building scale, a sinter-printer like Kayser’s could produce individual building elements or entire structures. Using 3D printing to construct a moon base is already in active discussion. Terrestrial applications abound as well.