Imagine you are just about to solve the problem your team was sent in on, when a critical piece of equipment breaks. It could be days or weeks before a replacement part will arrive.
Now imagine that your team members have been tossing all their used water bottles into an on-site unit that pulverizes the high quality polyethylene terephthalate (PET) into the raw material for 3D printing. You can now produce a replacement part in a matter of hours.
Although the technology could be as useful for humanitarian missions, the funding to get this project off the ground depends on the needs of the military. In the video here you can watch how PET water bottles are converted into a vehicle radio bracket, a part which typically takes a long time to get delivered. The recycled PET filaments have been determined to be just as strong and flexible as the standard raw material for 3D printing.
The team has also experimented with recycling other types of plastics. The polypropylene common in yogurt containers or the polystyrene in plastic utensils do not serve well without some creative engineering. But mixing these together with cellulose fibers (old paper and cardboard) yielded a functional resource for certain 3D printing demands.
Next, the team will build a mobile recycling trailer and start training soldiers how to recycle wastes into parts as proof of concept. In addition to offering a creative solution to real world problems, this research also represents some of the first characterizations of the properties of recycled plastics in 3D printing applications.