EPA Looks at 3D Printing Emissions

EPA Looks at 3D Printing Emissions

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is increasing its scrutiny of 3D printing emissions just as recent predictions say the technology is just beginning to revolutionize manufacturing and the supply chain.

Working in cooperation with the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), EPA is studying possible harmful emissions that are emitted during the 3D printing process. Also conducting research on 3D printer nanomaterials is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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“Users may not be aware of chemical emissions during the printing process,” notes Dr. Souhail Al-Abed, who is the lead scientist on the new EPA study. So far, his team’s research shows that common 3D printer ink, called filament, can emit gases during the printing phase that may pose a health risk to users and bystanders, EPA reports.

The most concerning of these are emissions known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Although there already have been many studies on the effects of VOCs produced by 3D printing, none of the research considered how these emissions change when certain additives are introduced to the 3D printing filament.

Dr. Al-Abed’s team closely examined a commonly available filament that is sold both with and without carbon nanotube inclusions to determine whether VOC emissions changed between the two types of product. EPA’s research focused on the potential effects of adding carbon nanotubes (CNTs) to filament composed of acrylonitrile-butadiene-sytrene (ABS)—a common polymer used in 3D printing.

The agency’s researchers were particularly interested in CNTs because they are increasingly being added to filaments to create electrical components because of their conductive and thermal properties.

Using a device called the System for Thermal Diagnostic Studies (STDS), EPA tested two filaments—one composed solely of ABS and one that contained CNTs—under a variety of conditions to simulate the heating, melting and forming of plastics that occur during 3D printing. The filament samples were tested at different temperatures, for different lengths of time and with different oxygen concentrations to replicate common printing conditions.

EPA’s study conclusions were:

• The ABS-CNT filament resulted in the emission of two additional VOC—2,4-di-tert-butylphenol and 2,6-di-tert-butylquinone—which were not emitted by the ABS filament and which could pose an inhalation hazard to users printing several kilograms of material.

• The presence of CNTs in filament lowered the total VOC emissions under most conditions, but they increased the amount of emissions from the most hazardous VOCs, including a-methylstyrene and benzaldehyde.

• Higher print temperatures had the most significant effect on increasing VOC emissions, followed by increased length of time heating the materials.

• CNTs may “trap” certain VOC gases in the resulting printed plastic items.









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