3-D printing wood waste could save endangered trees

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In California, 3-D printing innovators have successfully printed sawdust and binder in a way that mimics the grain of a tree—a process that can produce everyday items like furniture in a more environmentally friendly way with less waste. 

The work was undertaken at San Jose State University. “We realized really quickly that wood waste is a material that could be transformed for 3D printing,” Virginia San Fratello, San Jose State University chair of the design department, tells Fast Company. “The new process can print wood with a grain that mimics any type of tree, from ash to mahogany.”  The technology could even be used to replicate rosewood, a Madagascar tree that is endangered because of demand for its wood.  

Complex geometries are possible and there is plentiful sawdust and lignin available.  “They pay you to pick it up,” says Ric Fulop, CEO of Desktop Metal, a startup working to commercialize the process. “It’s going into landfill right now. Hundreds of millions of metric tons of waste is generated every year just in the U.S. alone.”