Materials

Polymaker and Covestro to debut new PC-r filament made from recycled bottles at TCT Asia

Polymer 3D printing specialists Polymaker and Covestro have announced their intention to launch a new material that’s partially-made from recycled plastic bottles at the upcoming TCT Asia 2021 trade show. 

Referred to only as ‘PC-r,’ the eco-friendly filament is based on a recycled polycarbonate (PC) developed by Covestro, that’s sourced from reused Chinese water bottles. By blending this plastic waste with raw materials, the firms have formulated a 3D printable material, with the potential to enable the more sustainable production of parts within the automotive or electronics industries.

One of Nongfu Spring's smaller plastic water bottles.
One of Nongfu Spring’s smaller plastic water bottles. Photo via the South China Morning Post.

Covestro’s circularity drive 

Since it was established as a legally-independent company in 2015, Covestro has gone on to become a global polymer business with a broad portfolio of elastomers, foams, films and composites. When it comes to the firm’s 3D printing offering, including its Addigy, Somos, Arnite and Makrolon materials, it’s increasingly seeking to source them more sustainably, with the aim of furthering circular economic principles. 

Covestro launched a new eco-friendly Addigy range at Formnext Connect, which were either partially-made from recycled plastics, or composed of up to 20% CO2. Since then, the company has reiterated its commitment to sustainable manufacturing with the release of its glass-fiber filled Arnite AM2001 GF material, which is also designed to leave a much smaller carbon footprint than conventional raw materials. 

The company’s new PET was the first feedstock to come from its newly-bought ex-DSM subsidiary, and its acquisition reflects Covestro’s will to seek out external partners when it comes to creating eco-friendly materials. Last year, the firm also worked with Polymaker to develop waste-free 3D printable fabrics, and it now appears that the duo have continued their circularity drive to co-develop PC-r. 

The fabrics being debuted at a trade show in Shanghai. Photo via Polymaker.
Covestro and Polymaker’s fabrics being debuted at a trade show in Shanghai. Photo via Polymaker.

Debuting the bottle-based PC-r 

The material base of Polymaker and Covestro’s latest filament comes from 19-liter bottles, which have been recycled by Chinese water supplier Nongfu Spring. Given that these containers are sourced from a single location, consist mainly of pure PC and are plentiful around China, they can be reused quickly and cost-effectively with minimal sorting, making their recovery economically and environmentally viable. 

In terms of end-performance, the firms say that their new material possesses “outstanding thermal stability and strength,” meaning that maintaining a constant chamber temperature is vital to creating successful prints. During their filament’s development, the companies therefore worked with INTAMSYS to validate the processability of PC-r, by conducting multiple trial production runs.

In the course of testing, Polymaker and Covestro were able to use INTAMSYS’ FUNMAT PRO 410 3D printer, which features a chamber that can be heated up to 90°C, to produce complex parts without any warping. Summary tests later revealed that the PC-r scored highly with regards to tensile strength, flexural strength, Young’s modulus and flexural modulus, outperforming normal PC in each area. 

The filament also met industry-specific requirements such as the Blue Angel and EPEAT seals, and its recycled base means that it has a lower carbon footprint compared to ordinary raw materials. As a result, the companies believe that PC-r could be ideal for those clients seeking to make their supply chain more sustainable, and which operate on a larger scale. 

Now their new material is ready for launch, the firms are set to present it at TCT Asia between May 26 2021 and May 28 2021, with Polymaker exhibiting at booth F44, Covestro demoing at E46 and its new DSM material portfolio on show at C48.

A spool of Polymaker and Covestro's new recycled PC-r filament.
A spool of Polymaker and Covestro’s new partially-recycled PC-r filament. Image via Covestro.

Recycled 3D printable feedstocks 

While Covestro has demonstrated its dedication to enabling sustainable production, it’s far from the first to launch a commercial filament that’s made out of recycled plastic. Earlier this year, Spanish 3D printing material producer Recreus also launched an eco-friendly new TPU, composed entirely of recycled footwear and in-house waste. 

Cornish-based Fishy Filaments, meanwhile, has made a business out of turning recycled nylon fishing nets into filament, which can be used by both hobbyists and professional designers to 3D print parts. In October 2020, the company signed a distribution deal that has since seen its range of sustainable materials marketed by UK-based AM supplier 3D Printz

In a similar vein, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has revealed that it is recycling PET bottles into 3D printed equipment. The company has been gathering empty containers from its flights and sending them to Morssinkhof Rymoplast, which then turns them into plastic pellets that can eventually be converted into filament by Reflow.

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Featured image shows one of Nongfu Spring’s smaller plastic water bottles. Photo via the South China Morning Post.

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