Hemp and 3D Printing – The Material of the Future

Making the future greener


3D printing has become extremely popular in recent times and is the process of creating a three-dimensional object from a CAD (computer-aided design) model. It involves using additive processes. An ‘additive process’ involves laying down successive layers of material until you create the desired object.

3D printing has been heralded as an environmentally-friendly method of creating complex shapes because it uses far less material than typical manufacturing processes. Although Arthur C. Clarke spoke of how a 3D printer would work way back in 1964, the first 3D printer wasn’t created until 1987 by Chuck Hull.

Creating an Object With a 3D Printer

The entire process begins with a three-dimensional model. You can either download one from a special 3D repository or develop one yourself. If you go down the DIY route, you have the option of using a 3D scanner, 3D modeling software, code, an app, or a haptic device.

3D modeling software is one of the most popular choices. You can get open-source software for free, or pay thousands of dollars a year for a license to get industrial-grade software. Once you have your 3D model, the next step is to prepare the file for the printer; a process known as ‘slicing.’

Slicing involves dividing your 3D model into hundreds, or even thousands, of horizontal layers. While you can buy special slicing software, high-grade printers often have built-in slicers. Select the file and feed it into your 3D printer. Now, you have the excitement of seeing your sliced model get printed in three-dimensional form layer by layer!

The 3D printing industry is expected to be worth $15 billion per annum by 2020, and up to $35 billion by 2024! It has a huge range of applications including:

  • Prosthetics
  • Eyewear
  • Designing furniture
  • Reconstructing badly damaged evidence from a crime scene
  • Replicating ancient artifacts
  • Automotive parts to restore old cars

3D printing experts now believe that the process is the future of construction. At the time of writing, it is already possible to print doors, floors, and walls. If you have enough time on your hands, it is potentially possible to print an entire house!

At present, the dominant material for 3D printing is plastic, but innovators are using coffee, beer, and even hemp!

Hemp – An Unconventional 3D Printing Material

It is no secret that our environment is taking a beating. Some suggest that it is already too late to try and prevent climate catastrophe, but we owe it to future generations to try! Several companies are exploring the possibility of using recycled material for 3D printing. The market for plastic filaments is extremely competitive, so it is necessary to find alternatives to stand out.

The popular plastic filament is also an environmental hazard. These filaments are made from plastics which are melted down at extremely high temperatures to create objects. Various firms have decided to ‘go green’ and are now using materials such as hemp plants, and recycled beer and coffee waste. As well as being better for the planet, these alternative filaments can print with PLA using standard PLA settings. They aren’t dyed, which means you end up with natural colors.

3D Fuel was one of the first companies to create a hemp-based 3D printing filament. Its special ‘Entwined’ filament is made from American grown hemp. You can clearly see the natural brown color which contains no dye. It also has a significant amount of visible bio-fill; you don’t get that with standard PLA.

Recently, 3D Fuel reduced hemp’s particle size but increased the percentage in its filament. As a result, you can use Entwined in a far greater variety of printers. For the record, the material prints well at temperatures of between 356- and 410-degrees Fahrenheit. The brand recommends a starting point of around 20 degrees Fahrenheit lower than what you would usually use when printing with PLA.

3D Printer Hemp Filament in Action

Hemp is making a big comeback and is now legal to grow in the United States as long as its THC content is ultra-low. 3D printing itself is capable of reducing the manufacturing industry’s environmental impact as it reduces waste, speeds up processes, and uses less energy in the main.

However, there are still plenty of mistakes made with bad 3D prints part and parcel of the process. When this happens using plastics, you end up wasting a lot of material. Recyclable materials such as PLA and hemp are being championed as viable alternatives. Hemp, in particular, could be a Godsend to the industry because it doesn’t need pesticides, grows quickly, and is a durable crop.

PLA is also biodegradable, so when you combine it with hemp, you open up a world of possibilities. Making hemp filament isn’t that difficult once you become familiar with the process. Typically, you use PLA as a polymer base and grind up the hemp fibers into particles, which are mixed into the PLA. The legality of hemp filaments depends on where you live. In France, for example, hemp filaments must have 0.2% THC or less.

As for using 3D printer hemp filament, the printing properties closely resemble those associated with PLA. It is odorless, which makes it ideal for use indoors in smaller spaces. As hemp filament is ‘low-warp,’ it means you don’t need a heated bed when printing. However, if you use one, the best heat setting is 104 degrees. The combination of biodegradable attributes and ease of use make hemp filament a good choice for daily prototyping.

As for price, you can get a 500-gram spool anywhere from $35 to $60 depending on the seller.

Printing Hemp Houses

The 3D printing construction market is in the process of massive growth. In 2017, it was worth around $70 million per annum. According to SmarTech, the market could grow to $40 billion in 2027! In many ways, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, given the benefits of using 3D printing in construction.

Aside from the high durability of printed buildings, they are faster to construct and have far lower costs and wastage. 3D printers also make it easier to create complicated design masterpieces.

Mirreco is an Australian biotechnology company that is dedicated to finding environmentally-friendly ways to construct buildings. It hopes to build 3D printed homes made from hemp filament ultimately. Already, Mirreco has developed carbon-neutral hemp panels that are being 3D printed into walls, roofs, and floors.

It is worth remembering that hemp can hold and store carbon dioxide; a major advantage in the quest to reduce ‘greenhouse gases.’ It is now possible to create hemp-based biocomposite materials which are stronger and more reliable than the synthetic materials currently used in the construction industry.

Back in 2018, Mirreco unveiled its concept of a sustainable hemp home which was designed by Arcforms. According to Mirreco, the walls, roof, and floors are going to be made using hemp biomass, while the windows will allow light to pass through the glass and get converted into electricity. Ultimately, the company wants to manufacture, sell, own, and operate a large number of mobile machines to process the hemp onsite.

Naturally, the company plans to use a gigantic 3D printer. A prime example is the Autonomous Robotic Construction Systems (ARCS) printer designed by S-Squared 3D (SQ3D) Printers. According to the company, its XXL printer will be able to create structures of up to 92,000 square meters!

SQ3D has a humanitarian goal in mind. It has stated that it plans to create properties for people in impoverished regions. It continued by saying that they could build a 500 square foot home for around $1,000. Most importantly, these structures would be solid enough to withstand tornadoes, hurricanes, and virtually any Act of God.

Final Thoughts on Hemp & 3D Printing

The list of potential uses for the hemp plant is growing. It is absolutely unbelievable that this remarkable crop was banned for so long. In what is surely a case of ‘better late than never,’ industrial hemp is now legal to grow in the U.S. and in Canada.

The fact that hemp can be used to create the filament used in 3D printing is another feather in the crop’s cap. It is a significantly more environmentally-friendly material than plastic, and its durability and versatility really comes to the fore. Imagine a situation where it becomes possible to use hemp filament and a 3D printer to build an entire house for little more than a thousand bucks. That sounds like a better kind of future.