3d Printing for Decarbonization

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is a transformative technology that creates three-dimensional objects from a digital model by depositing material layer by layer. This process contrasts with traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, where material is removed from a larger block to create the desired shape. 3D printing offers significant advantages, including reduced material waste, greater design flexibility, and the ability to create complex geometries that were previously impossible or impractical to manufacture.

Impact on climate action

3D Printing for Decarbonization under Advanced Materials revolutionizes manufacturing by enabling on-demand production with minimal material waste. By reducing energy consumption and emissions associated with traditional manufacturing processes, this innovation promotes sustainability, mitigates environmental impact, and contributes to climate action through efficient resource utilization.


Additive manufacturing encompasses a diverse range of technologies, each with its own unique approach to building objects layer by layer. Some of the most common 3D printing technologies include:

  • Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM): This widely used technology employs a heated nozzle to extrude thermoplastic materials, such as ABS or PLA, layer by layer, to build an object. FDM is known for its affordability and ease of use, making it popular for prototyping and small-scale production.
  • Selective Laser Sintering (SLS): SLS utilizes a laser to selectively sinter powdered materials, such as nylon or metal, layer by layer, to create an object. This technology is known for its ability to produce strong and durable parts with complex geometries.
  • Stereolithography (SLA): SLA employs a laser to selectively cure a liquid photopolymer resin, layer by layer, to build an object. This technology is known for its high resolution and surface finish, making it ideal for applications requiring fine detail and smooth surfaces.
  • Selective Laser Melting (SLM): SLM uses a high-powered laser to melt and fuse metal powder, layer by layer, to create an object. This technology is used to produce high-strength metal parts with complex geometries for demanding applications in aerospace, medical, and other industries.

TRL : 7-8 (for some additive manufacturing technologies)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • New Materials and Printing Processes: Continuous research and development efforts are expanding the range of materials that can be 3D printed, including metals, ceramics, composites, and biomaterials. Additionally, new printing processes are being developed to improve speed, accuracy, and surface finish.
  • Multi-Material Printing: Advancements in multi-material printing allow for the creation of objects with different materials and properties within a single print job. This opens up new possibilities for functional prototypes and customized products.
  • Large-Scale Additive Manufacturing: Companies are developing larger and faster 3D printers that can produce larger objects and higher volumes of parts, making additive manufacturing more suitable for mass production.
  • Hybrid Manufacturing Systems: Combining additive manufacturing with traditional subtractive manufacturing methods can offer advantages in terms of speed, accuracy, and material properties. This hybrid approach allows for greater flexibility and customization in manufacturing processes.
  • Bioprinting: This emerging field utilizes 3D printing to create biological tissues and organs, offering potential applications in regenerative medicine and drug discovery.

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Desktop Metal:
    • Technology Enhancement: Desktop Metal is known for its innovative metal 3D printing technology, which allows for rapid prototyping and production of metal parts.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Desktop Metal’s technology enables the production of metal parts with complex geometries and high precision at a fraction of the cost and time compared to traditional manufacturing methods.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Desktop Metal serves a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, healthcare, and consumer goods, where metal parts with customized designs and properties are in demand.
  • Markforged:
    • Technology Enhancement: Markforged specializes in composite and metal 3D printing technologies, offering printers capable of producing parts with reinforced materials such as carbon fiber, fiberglass, and metal.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Markforged’s patented Continuous Fiber Fabrication (CFF) technology allows for the creation of exceptionally strong and lightweight parts by embedding continuous strands of reinforcement within printed materials.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Markforged caters to industries requiring durable and lightweight parts, including aerospace, automotive, defense, and industrial manufacturing.
  • Carbon:
    • Technology Enhancement: Carbon utilizes a proprietary Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology for resin-based 3D printing, which enables the production of high-resolution, end-use parts with superior mechanical properties.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Carbon’s DLS technology enables rapid production of functional prototypes and end-use parts with qualities comparable to injection-molded components, including isotropic strength and surface finish.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Carbon serves industries such as healthcare, consumer products, automotive, and aerospace, where high-performance, production-quality parts are required on-demand for prototyping and manufacturing applications.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT):
    • Research Focus: MIT is renowned for its pioneering work in additive manufacturing, focusing on advanced materials and techniques to push the boundaries of 3D printing.
    • Uniqueness: MIT’s research often explores novel materials for additive manufacturing, such as metals, ceramics, and composites, enabling the production of complex structures with exceptional properties.
    • End-use Applications: Their research spans various industries, including aerospace, automotive, biomedical, and electronics. For instance, they’re developing 3D-printed parts for lightweight aerospace components and customized medical implants.
  • Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford’s additive manufacturing research emphasizes pushing the limits of design freedom, speed, and scalability in 3D printing technologies.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often integrates machine learning and artificial intelligence to optimize the printing process and material properties, allowing for rapid prototyping and efficient production.
    • End-use Applications: Stanford’s work finds applications in fields like architecture, robotics, and sustainable manufacturing. For example, they’re exploring 3D-printed structures for sustainable housing and lightweight robotic components for enhanced mobility.
  • Carnegie Mellon University (CMU):
    • Research Focus: CMU’s additive manufacturing research focuses on advancing the capabilities of 3D printing through interdisciplinary collaborations, including materials science, robotics, and computer science.
    • Uniqueness: Their research often explores multi-material printing and biofabrication techniques, enabling the creation of functional, integrated systems with diverse material properties.
    • End-use Applications: CMU’s research has applications in fields like healthcare, consumer products, and energy. For instance, they’re developing 3D-printed tissues for regenerative medicine and customizable consumer products tailored to individual preferences.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Additive manufacturing is already being used in various industries, including aerospace, automotive, medical devices, and consumer products. For example, GE Aviation uses additive manufacturing to produce fuel nozzles for jet engines, while medical device companies use it to create custom implants and prosthetics. Additionally, 3D printing is being used to produce customized consumer products, such as footwear and eyewear.