Glass-reinforced, Recycled PET as Additive Manufacturing Feedstock

Moby Ahmed | Ambercycle, Inc



This project aims to develop a robust, integrated recycling and additive manufacturing system for waste plastics on Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). The primary research objective of this project is to develop readily deployable, small-scale modular systems for transforming waste Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) water bottles into materials suitable for processing via material extrusion Additive Manufacturing (AM). To this end, the team will investigate the production and printability of PET and PET/glass fiber (PET-GF) composite materials. The initial focus will be to determine the compositions of the PET and the PET-GF composite that are compatible with desktop-scale extrusion three-dimensional (3D) printers. Strength of the PET-GF composite as a result of GF loading and surface functionality will be determined. Processing conditions for conversion of bottle flake into filament as well as filament into 3D-printed parts will be determined. Finally, the material and mechanical properties of the final 3D-printed objects will be ascertained so as to guide best practices for downstream applications and a demonstration artifact will be printed.

This innovation will next be expanded to larger, production scale 3D-printers that can print parts of large enough size for FOB deployment. Further, the team will extend the research and development done in the primary stage, toward the development of a scalable system for end-to-end processing of PET water bottles into 3D printed goods and/or equipment. This system will intake PET water bottles, perform necessary pretreatment, and produce 3D-printable filament or 3D printed parts directly. This innovation will enable on-site prototyping and production of replacement parts and structural materials from a harmful waste stream.

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Technical Approach

The team has divided the research plan into three key tasks in order to achieve the overall research goal:

  1. Raw material preparation and characterization
  2. 3D printing of the prepared materials via extrusion-based AM
  3. Analysis of the 3D Printed materials.

Each research task features sets of experiments that are focused on two material systems: R-PET and PET-GF made from recycled PET bottles. Following this procedure will allow for a systematic exploration of the glass fibers’ effects on process-property-structure relationships. 

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Field-testing of the system in non-FOB locales will further sustain the growth of the business and thus the technology. Numerous rural and developing communities around the world, as well as certain developed communities, will benefit from on-site plastic recycling that adds value to a waste stream, provides a new material for manufacturing, and decreases environmental hazards associated with PET plastic accumulation.  

Smaller communities in the United States could utilize intensified water bottle recycling skids that produce R-PET pellets if large-scale plants are not nearby or feasible to build. Existing municipal recycling facilities may implement the technology by offering 3D printing as a public service in exchange for water bottles. There are new structures of increasing complexity being 3D printed every day; everything from basic building materials to tools to personal care items will soon be readily printed if not already. Sourcing such essential products from waste greatly benefits communities most in need, both in the US and abroad.

Certain durable goods manufacturers would also benefit from the technology, as they could enhance their sustainability profile, control their supply chain for parts made using the technology, and have newfound flexibility in the design of parts. Outdoor goods companies would be an excellent candidate customer for having in-house ability to turn water bottles into backpack straps and other such durable goods components.

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Moby Ahmed

Ambercycle, Inc.

Phone: 916-627-9838