My introduction to 3d-printing began when my roommate and I attempted to make a magnetic motor. It didn’t work well, but it would have been impossible without 3d-printed plastic pieces. The problem we actually ran into was the lack of variety with the magnets. We used neodymium rare earth magnets. These are considered the most powerful permanent magnets available today, yet under current production methods are hard to customize. As it turns out, Ames Lab is working on a 3d-printer that will be used to print new alloys and rare earth metals.
Rare earth metals are used for just about any modern technology you can imagine. Catalytic converters, LED lights, flat screens, almost all portable electronics and motors, elevators, cruise missiles and magnets. They are absolutely crucial in many of the greener technologies being used today including hybrid cars and wind energy. Consumption of these elements have increased drastically, and this trend is expected to continue. It is no wonder that the Department of Energy is involved in this process seeing as how critical these metals will be in the expansion of renewable energy technologies and reduction in fossil fuel dependence.
With this technology in mind, I am curious as to what can be used in terms of making new filament from recycled rare earth elements. Recycling, separating and processing these metals is dangerous and costly. It also creates a lot of harmful wastes. This is actually why the majority of processing of these metals is performed in China where the environmental laws are not so strict. Hopefully, this new 3d-printer from Ames lab will be able to 3d-print metals that are easier to recycle and process.
Furthermore, with this new printing ability, it may be easier to print a full magnetic circular track. In my roommate’s and my invention, we tried to use off axis magnetic repulsion to push a motor. This can only be accomplished by having a one piece magnet without any magnetic pits. Magnetic propulsion could become a reality while simultaneously pushing the world into a sustainable energy environment.