Tag Archives: Environmental Law Institute

3D printing and the environment (a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars), and new developments with metal 3D printing

I have combined two 3D printing items here. The first is an announcement from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars about an upcoming panel discussion (from the Nov. 25, 2013 announcement),

The Environmental Impacts of 3D Printing

3D printing allows for cheaper and quicker production of complex and novel items. The technology has been used by industry to build prototypes and specialized parts since the 1980s, but interest in desktop applications of the technology has increased in recent years as prices for the machines have dropped.

Proponents of the technology often cite the environmental benefits of 3D printing, though fundamental questions remain: What technologies are involved in 3D printing? How efficient are these technologies in the use of materials and energy? Does the design of printed objects reduce end-of-life options? Does more localized production reduce the carbon footprint? Will simplicity and ubiquity cause us to overprint things, just as we do with paper?

Robert Olson explored some of these questions in his article “3D Printing: A Boon or a Bane?” in the November/December 2013 issue of the Environmental Forum. The article discusses the enormous potential of 3D printing and examines the paucity of research on the environmental impacts of the technology.

Join us at the Wilson Center on Dec. 13 for an event looking at the growth of additive manufacturing and the potential environmental implications of the technology.

When: Dec. 13, 2013 from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. EST


  • Robert Olson, Senior Fellow, Institute for Alternative Futures
  • David Rejeski, Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program, Wilson Center
  • John Pendergrass, Senior Attorney & Director of the State Center, Environmental Law Institute

There is more information on the Event page.

While this panel discussion is likely to be focused on polymer 3D printing, there are other developments in the 3D printing world as per a Nov. 26, 2013 Michigan Technological University (MTU) news release (also on EurekAlert, Dec. 2, 2013),

OK, so maybe you aren’t interested in making your own toys, cellphone cases, or glow-in-the-dark Christmas decorations. How about a brake drum?

Until now, 3D printing has been a polymer affair, with most people in the maker community using the machines to make all manner of plastic consumer goods, from tent stakes to chess sets. A new low-cost 3D printer developed by Michigan Technological University’s Joshua Pearce and his team could add hammers to that list. The detailed plans, software and firmware are all freely available and open-source, meaning anyone can use them to make their own metal 3D printer.

This open access technology is being made accessible to the maker community, preferably to the highly skilled and experienced members, (from the news release),

Pearce is the first to admit that his new printer is a work in progress. So far, the products he and his team have produced are no more intricate than a sprocket. But that’s because the technology is so raw. “Similar to the incredible churn in innovation witnessed with open-sourcing of the first RepRap plastic 3D printers, I anticipate rapid progress when the maker community gets their hands on it,” says Pearce, an associate professor of materials science and engineering/electrical and computer engineering. “Within a month, somebody will make one that’s better than ours, I guarantee it.”

Using under $1,500 worth of materials, including a small commercial MIG welder and an open-source microcontroller, Pearce’s team built a 3D metal printer than can lay down thin layers of steel to form complex geometric objects. Commercial metal printers are available, but they cost over half a million dollars.

His make-it-yourself metal printer is less expensive than off-the-shelf commercial plastic 3D printers and is affordable enough for home use, he said. However, because of safety concerns, Pearce suggests that for now it would be better off in the hands of a shop, garage or skilled DIYer, since it requires more safety gear and fire protection equipment than the typical plastic 3D printer.

While metal 3D printing opens new vistas, it also raises anew the specter of homemade firearms. Some people have already made guns with both commercial metal and plastic 3D printers, with mixed results. While Pearce admits to some sleepless nights as they developed the metal printer, he also believes that the good to come from all types of distributed manufacturing with 3D printing will far outweigh the dangers.

In previous work, his group has already shown that making products at home with a 3D printer is cheaper for the average American and that printing goods at home is greener than buying commercial goods.

In particular, expanded 3D printing would benefit people in the developing world, who have limited access to manufactured goods, and researchers, who can radically cut costs of scientific equipment to further their science, Pearce said. “Small and medium-sized enterprises would be able to build parts and equipment quickly and easily using downloadable, free and open-source designs, which could revolutionize the economy for the benefit of the many.”

“I really don’t know if we are mature enough to handle it,” he added cautiously, “but I think that with open-source approach, we are within reach of a Star Trek-like, post-scarcity society, in which ‘replicators’ can create a vast array of objects on demand, resulting in wealth for everyone at very little cost. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to make almost anything.”

There is a paper and here’s a citation,of sorts,

“A Low-Cost, Open-Source Metal 3-D Printer,” to be published Nov. 25 in IEEE Access (DOI: 10.1109/ACCESS.2013.2293018)

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to locate this paper on IEEE {Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers]  Access.

Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation tidbits; TAPPI and the nanotechnology forestry conference in Alberta; a modern House of Wisdom

I caught only part of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) event, Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation, due to two factors. (1) I was busy posting here and so was late to the live webcast. (2) About an hour after I started watching, something (either my system choked or the Wilson Center facility was having difficulties or I lost broadband speed for some reason)  happened and the live webcast became unwatchable.

This was an international collaborative project titled, Regulating Nanotechnologies in the EU and US. Researchers from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), Chatham House, the Environmental Law Institute (ELI), and PEN at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars worked together to produce a report, a briefing paper, and a slide presentation about their findings and recommendations that can be downloaded from here.

The Washington, DC presentation was yesterday (Sept. 23, 2009) at the Wilson Center facility. There were two panels and I missed the introduction for the first group but I did recognize the moderator, David Rejeski who’s PEN’s executive director. The discussion was about the report and the recommendations.

One of the more interesting bits was the mention of a discrepancy between the UK and EU food industries submissions to some sort of inquiry. The UK representative claimed there are 2 nano type food products on the market (in the UK,  i.e. Europe) while in an earlier meeting elsewhere an EU representative claimed there are 20 such products on the market in Europe. No one was able to explain the discrepancy, which is troubling.

As for the participants in the project, there was general agreement that some sort of regulatory system needs to be developed quickly. Amongst other recommendations:

  1. Voluntary reporting of the use and manufacture of nano materials should be made mandatory.
  2. There should be a ‘technology label’ for food and cosmetic products that contain nanomaterials.
  3. A global approach to nanotechnology regulation that draws together major players such as China and India, as well as many others, needs to be adopted.

There was some mention of Canada at one point. I believe the speaker was referring to an Environment Canada initiative, i.e. a one-time inventory of nanomaterials used in manufacturing products which is mandatory. (I commented on this matter in my Feb. 3, 4, and 6, 2009 postings.) I haven’t heard anything about their progress lately but it is used as an example of a mandatory nanotechnology inventory. Interestingly, they never mention that it is supposed to be one time only.

As for the second panel (moderated by Dr. Andrew Maynard, Chief Science Advisor for PEN), this was oriented to some of the practicalities of introducing nano regulation into current regulatory environments. At least, I think that’s what it was about as things began to malfunction shortly after the introductions.

TAPPI (Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry) held a nanotechnology forestry conference in Alberta this last June. I should have mentioned it at the time but, trite as it is,  better late than never.  From today’s news item about the conference on Nanowerk,

More than 180 nanoscience experts from 12 countries met in June to discuss the potential of nano-enabled biomaterials. Held in Edmonton, AB, Canada, and co-sponsored by TAPPI and the Alberta Ingenuity Fund, the conference revealed developments for revolutionizing paper and wood products, as well as capturing sustainability-focused markets with bionanocomposites and capitalizing on wood-derived nanocrystalline cellulose (NCC) and nanofibrillar cellulose (NFC).

The 2010 conference will be held in Helsinki, Finland.

The House of Wisdom existed from the 9th to 13th centuries CE (common era) in Baghdad. Originally intended as a library whose main purpose was for the translation of books from Persian into Arabic, the House of Wisdom became a centre for the study of the humanities and sciences that was unrivaled in its time. One of its great scholars (Al-Khawarizmi) is known as the ‘father of algebra’. They invented the library catalogue where books were organized according to subjects. Note: I was recently at the oldest library at Trinity College in Dublin and the guide mentioned that those books are organized on the shelves by size, weight, and the colour of their bindings. (I got my information about the House of Wisdom here in Wikipedia and from a Nanowerk Spotlight article by Michael Berger.)

I mention the House of Wisdom because of Berger’s article which uses it as a metaphor to discuss a modern attempt to recreate the ‘house’,  this time, in Saudi Arabia. A new, 36 square kilometer,  science/technology campus/city called the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) opened yesterday on Sept. 23, 2009.

From the article,

Much more than a future elite university, the vision behind KAUST is to create the nucleus of a modern society, free from the strict religious dictates of a conservative Islamic culture, and laying the foundation for a science and technology based society of future generations.

This sounds quite ambitious for a conservative Islamic country that doesn’t have public entertainment facilities such as cinemas or theaters – they are regarded as incompatible with Islam; where most schools have focused on religion much more than on science and other modern knowledge; and where a strict interpretation of Islam imposes many restrictions on women’s daily lives.

This all is supposed to change with mega projects like the $8bn Knowledge Economic City (KEC), the King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) a $26.6 billion project that will generate more than 500,000 jobs upon completion in 2016; and nearby KAUST, intended to catapult Saudi Arabia’s education system into the 21st century and prepare its society for the time after oil. This move to a knowledge-based society is a top priority for the country – in 2009 alone, 25.7% of Saudi Arabia’s budget has been allocated to educational development.

As an oil-producing country, Saudi Arabia is getting ready for a time when there won’t be any left to pump out of the ground. Do read the article as there’s much more about the facilities which, according to Berger, “… will enable top-notch nanotechnology research.”

It reminds me a little of the situation in Alberta where they are currently trying to extract oil from sand only because the oil that was easy to access is almost gone while heavily investing in emerging advanced technologies such as nanotechnology.

Preston Manning Interview (part 2 of 2); Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Events; ASTC Conference

Here are three (yesterday, I mistakenly said there would be two)  more of Mr. Manning’s answers,

  • Do you know of any areas where Canadians are leading in science and technical innovations?

Some of the areas where Canada is at the leading edge in science and technology include cellular communications and genetic science (Toronto), space technology and robotics (the Canada Space Agency, the Canadarm, etc.), immunology and disease control (Winnipeg), in situ oil recovery (Ft. McMurray and Calgary), etc. The Canadian scientists who have won Nobel prizes also indicate some of the areas where Canada has led or is leading in science.

  • In your speech you mention the macro level for allocating science funds and make some suggestions for the Science and Technology Innovation Council regarding a more transparent and open process for decisionmaking and developing a structure and set of principles. (a) I’m surprised this hasn’t been done before! (b) How would you operationalize (or implement) your suggestion if asked to do so?

My suggestion was that the federal government through Industry Canada direct the Science, Technology, and Innovation Council (STIC) to make clear the structure, processes, and principles upon which funds are allocated.

Here is the last question,

  • This one is on a somewhat different topic. I understand that you are still a member of the NINT board. (Please do correct me if this information is incorrect.) What is your view on the Canada nanotechnology scene given that unlike many countries (US, China, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Germany, Russia, etc.) have nanotechnology initiatives/policies, Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance has shut its doors, NanoTech BC is struggling for existence, and NINT has gone through an identity change (it no longer has its own website or unique identity online)?

With respect to the current state of nano-science and nanotechnology in Canada, you would have to consult experts in this field to get a definitive answer. But it is my impression from my exposure to the National Institute for Nanotechnology at the University of Alberta that modest but steady progress is being made. I think it is important to distinguish between the media and public-relations hype which invariably surrounds a new science and technology, and over-promises, and the reality of the slow and painstaking step-by-step progress of the development of any science or technology.

Thank you Mr. Manning for taking the time to answer my questions. The answer to the last question is particularly interesting to me (given the purpose for this blog) and certainly bears out some of my own experience. There is much hype but the real work is ‘slow and painstaking’. Mr. Manning will be a keynote speaker, along with Gary Goodyear, Minister of State for Science and Technology, at the Canadian Science Policy Conference on Oct. 28 – 30, 2009 in Toronto. Details of the conference here.

I got this information from the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) but it seems to be a Wilson Center event more than anything else. NOTE: The times listed are EDT.

On September 18th the Wilson Center and Environmental Law Institute will release new data on the flow of energy (in BTUs) and the flow of dollars (in terms of subsidies) through the U.S. economy.  We hope you can join us for:

Perverse Incentives: The Untold Story of Federal Subsidies to Fossil Fuels

The ongoing debates about biofuels, cap and trade legislation, and paths to energy independence have focused public attention on energy and climate issues like never before, with policymakers taking a heightened interest in renewable energy and its economic viability. Against this backdrop, the Environmental Law Institute and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars have completed a comprehensive study of federal subsidies to fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. Our data reveal surprising facts about where public funds are going and how our current energy policy may actually undermine the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Join us on September 18, 2009, from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. in the 5th floor conference room at the Woodrow Wilson Center as we discuss our findings and their implications for future energy and climate change policy. The event will also be webcast live at www.wilsoncenter.org.

A light breakfast will be served starting at 8:30 a.m.

To attend this event, RSVP to


No RSVP is required to view the webcast.

There’s another event, one I’ve mentioned before, on Sept. 23, 2009 on Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation: Securing the Promise of Nanotechnologies. I have the details here in my June 30, 2009 posting. As usual with a PEN event, there will be a webcast (12 – 2:30 pm EDT) or if you’re going to the live event, you can RSVP here.

The ASTC (Association of Science and Technology Centers) is having its conference Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, 2009 in Fort Worth Texas. NISE Net (Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network) will be hosting a few events and is offering nine conference sessions. From the NISE Net newsletter, here are the conference sessions,

  • Interpreting the Nanoworld through Juggling, Drama, Art, and Media
  • Public Engagement with Science and Technology Policy: How Far Should We Go?
  • Making the Invisible Visible: Visualizing Emerging Science with Artists
  • Dimensions of Public Engagement: Finding Your Footing in a Paradigm Shift
  • Public Impact Results for the Nanoscale Informal Science Education (NISE) Network
  • Creative Programming and Current Science Learning
  • Sustainable Diversity Workshop: Conversation and Tools for Inclusivity
  • Science Alliance: Advancing Science Communication by Bridging Diverse Organizations
  • Public Engagement in Current Science and Global Issues

Wish I could go (and the Canadian Science Policy conference too). ASTC conference details can be found here.

I should also mention that the online consultation for Canadian copyright is drawing to a close on Sept. 13, 2009. If you are interested in making a submission, you can go here.

Let’s close the week with some nano haiku. From the NISE Net newsletter,

Nano, oh nano
With surface area so
Small, but big impact
by Keith Ostfeld of the Children’s Museum of Houston.

Happy weekend!

Ongoing nano oversight discussions

The Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) has a couple of ‘oversight’ events coming up. The first is on Tuesday, April 28,2009 at 9 am PST and features discussion of a report ‘Oversight of Next Generation Nanotechnology‘ by J. Clarence Davies, a former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official. I wasn’t particularly thrilled the last time PEN had one of these events back in July 2008. Davies was the speaker that time too and the talk was very EPA-centric and I did not feel that Davies had a good grasp of nanotechnology.  For more information about this event or to RSVP if you’re planning to attend, go here.

Their second event will be on Wednesday, June 17, 2009 at 9 am PST. It’s called, ‘Transatlantic Regulatory Cooperation: Securing the Promise of Nanotechnologies‘. This event is the result of a collaboration between the London School of Economics, Chatham House, Environmental Law Institute, and PEN.Here’s something from their email notice,

[The purpose] is aimed at generating and examining new ideas to enable greater transatlantic convergence on nanotechnology oversight today and in the future.

For more details or to RSVP, you can go here.

Finally I have an update on the Martha Cook Piper situation. (She was appointed as the chair to Canada’s National Institute of Nanotechnology [NINT] last April and I’ve been trying to get an interview for several months.) I just heard today that I will be getting some answers to my question in the next few weeks. Plus, I notice that she was finally listed on NINT’s website. You can see the listing and a bit of a biography here.