Is seaweed the future of green 3D printing?

Paris 3D print showOne of the most interesting announcements to come out of the 3D Print Show held in Paris last weekend was that made by French start-up Le FabShop. Its big news was the successful development of a new type of 3D printing filament named SWF. Derived from seaweed, the non-toxic, biodegradable and easily grown nature of the material would make it the most environmentally-sound filament on the market.

Since its launch in 2012, Le FabShop has been at the forefront of the 3D print industry in France. As well as selling MakerBot, Matrix 300 and Iris devices, it also provides many top-end French clients, including the Palace of Versailles and the BNP Bank, with custom designed 3D models. Now, in collaboration with Anglopack, it is aiming to take the entire 3D print process in a green direction.

The collaboration began over a year ago, with Le FabShop harvesting seaweed from Brittany, in North West France. Over the last twelve months, its researchers have been testing the material, trying to find the formula that would make it suitable for an additive manufacturing environment. According to CEO and founder BertierLuyt, those tests have borne fruit and its potentially game-changing SWF filament will be ready to ship by Spring of next year.

fabshop

While there are now several dozen materials regularly utilised in 3D printing, none of them are as green as seaweed. Neither of the two most popular consumer materials, ABS and PLA, could truly be said to be environmentally friendly. ABS, which comes from petroleum, is profoundly toxic and does not biodegrade. PLA, which is based on corn starch, sugar cane and tapioca roots, is biodegradable but can take centuries to actually break down. (For a more detailed look at PLA and ABS, check out our consumer filament guide)

If SWF works as well as promised, it would represent a major breakthrough for those hoping 3D printing can be a truly green manufacturing process. As Luyt puts it:

We aim to revolutionize 3D printing, which is already a revolution by itself. Many technologies take years to become green, but we wanted now to offer a smart alternative in the field.

That is not to say Le FabShop is the only 3D print company with that ambition, of course. For example, Marek Senicky’s FilaMaker, which was exhibited at the Rome Maker Faire in October, gives users the ability to recycle old ABS objects and re-use them as filament.

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