Study Looks at the Tiny Particles Released Into the Air from 3D Printers

Our 3D printers are emitting nano particles not too different from emissions from other aerosols, according to a study released this year.

Thanks to the incredible efforts of dozens of scientists, it appears that the ozone layer will, in fact, recover in the next few decades, which presents a much more positive outlook than even a decade ago. Still, it remains important to put measures in place that discourage the rise of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which according to recent info may be making a return.

Part of these combined efforts involves creating studies that look at the toxicity of aerosols, which is linked to particle emissions. A team of researchers set out to do just that, this time introducing 3D printer technology into the equation.

Expanding Current Research Models

The team's work centered around looking at fused deposition modeling (FDM), considered by many to be the most widely used method of 3D printing. Specifically, they wanted to understand the (1) environmental impact of the method in terms of particle emissions as well as the (2) combination of processes which produce any emissions, answering research questions which most previous studies did not tackle.

The researchers set up a special emission test chamber, which allowed them to gather a good amount of data from a single 3D printer by modifying the conditions over time. In terms of the size distribution of the emissions they observed, they ranged between 7 nm and 25 μm.

A Complex Picture Emerges

Although the researchers couldn't say with certainty which compounds were involved in the 3D printer, they did determine in the process that:

--> The compounds were emitted in vapor form from the filament which is heated during the printing process.

--> Their condensation and coagulation happen in a relatively small space.

--> The majority of the process happens near the extruder nozzle of the printer.

With the evolution of 3D printing technology from emerging, to rapidly emerging, to thriving, it is important to produce a body of scientific research that keeps up with any potential risks associated with the innovative technology. Nanoparticle emissions are a proven outcome of 3D printing under certain conditions, so we must create a sound understanding of environmental and health impacts.

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Professor Rodney Weber of the Georgia Institute of Technology, first author on the paper, has been leading studies over the years which assess the impact of aerosols on human health around the globe, which earned him and his colleague Georgia Tech Assistant Professor Nga Lee Ng the 2016 Aerosol Research Award from the American Association for Aerosol Research. Professor Ng who also heads her own research center at the University, devising studies related to environmental impact. 

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Aerosol chemistry is one of the branches of science which involves mostly behind the scene work as well as many hours of producing studies which hopefully will convince the local governments to regulate the industry. We thank these researchers for their thankless work. 

Details about the study appear in a paper, titled "Investigating particle emissions and aerosol dynamics from a consumer fused deposition modeling 3D printer with a lognormal moment aerosol model", which was published April 30th in the Aerosol Science and Technology journal.

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