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Recycling 3D Printed Plastic on International Space Station

Picture of Bulent Yusuf
by Bulent Yusuf
Oct 25, 2017
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Now there’s a 3D printer on the International Space Station, Made in Space and Braskem are exploring ways for recycling 3D printed plastic.

In 2018, astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) could be using a special recycler of plastic objects and packaging. This wouldn’t just clear out the clutter in the astronaut’s recreation room; it would also improve the autonomy and sustainability of future missions.

Astronauts may begin recycling 3D printed plastic parts on the ISS as soon as 2018.

The initiative is part of the “Printing the Future” project, a partnership between Made In Space, a supplier to NASA of 3D printers for operation in zero gravity, and petrochemical company Braskem.

It’s not the first commercial plastic recycling operation in the history of space missions. NASA is cooking up a “refabricator” device of their own to combine recyling and 3D printing into a single unit.

But it’s the latest development of a fruitful partnership between Braskem and Made in Space; last year saw the launch of Green Plastic filament, a bio-based resin made from sugarcane, for the printing of tools and spare parts by astronauts.

Using the recycler should close the “plastic cycle” with innovation, efficiency and sustainability. If it reaches the ISS in the second half of 2018, it will help reduce the costs of space missions and cut the weight of payloads carried from Earth.

recycling 3D printed plastic

Recycling 3D Printed Plastic in Space is a Massive Challenge

“There is significant potential for plastic recycling on the ISS. For example, food packaging can be used to make objects for use by astronauts instead of being discarded,” says Andrew Rush, Made In Space President and CEO.

“In the future, the recycler and the 3D printer will form a single package that will increase the autonomy and sustainability of long-duration space missions.”

The machine consists of a plastic crushing and extrusion system. It produces a filament that can be used by the 3D printer already installed on the ISS.

The recycler will allow astronauts to re-use the Green Polyethylene tools and parts previously fabricated by the 3D printer. Also other plastic materials already on the ISS that no longer are being used, like food packaging.

“In the future, the recycler and the 3D printer will form a single package that will increase the autonomy and sustainability of long-duration space missions.”

“Taking the first plastic recycler into space is a massive challenge and a source of great pride for Braskem,” says Patrick Teyssonneyre, Director of Innovation & Technology at Braskem.

“This second phase of our partnership with Made In Space will close the plastic cycle sustainably, from the production of Green Polyethylene made from sugarcane to the recycling of polymers for other applications.”

Source: Press Release

recycling 3D printed plastic

License: The text of "Recycling 3D Printed Plastic on International Space Station" by All3DP is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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