Joshua Pearce spans two worlds: materials science and electrical engineering. And
he wants to change the world. Using his interdisciplinary background,
The more you know about the current state of the environment, the harder it is to remain optimistic about the future. George W. Bush, however, gives me great hope for the future of the planet.
Put aside your political feelings about the 43rd President of the United States for a moment and ignore what he did or didn't do while
President. I would like you to take a close look at what he chose to do after he left
Bush paints pictures of his dog, his
He does not have to do this. His net worth is over $35 million; he could easily hire the most talented living artists to paint a picture of his dog.
If you ever visit my house you will see almost the same thing. The paintings in the living room were created by my children. Art critics would note they were done with acrylic rather than oil paint. We may not be able to afford a museum piece, but we could certainly buy prints from Amazon to decorate the room we spend the most time in. Yet we didn't.
"The things my family and I make are more personal and have HIGHER value to us than anything we could buy. Just like George W. Bush and his family."Joshua Pearce
I suspect the walls of your house are the same. If you could afford it, I bet a lot more than just your walls would be your own custom creations.
That is what gives me hope.
For the first time in human history, technology has advanced to a point where the
ease of making anything for yourself finally challenges the economies of scale that
erupted during the industrial revolution. Although industrial manufacturing and conventional
economics have brought humanity countless wonders, it has also devastated the environment.
Decades of environmental activism have brought only small victories (Lake Erie no
longer catches on fire—yeah, us!) But the big picture—metrics like the extinction
rates, climate instability, rain forest clearing,
While “triple bottom line” thinking and “green business” strategies are increasingly
popular, the most powerful entities of our time—the Fortune 500—is a
MOST: Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology
My research group recently completed a study where we looked at the economics of 3-D printing from the perspective of the average American consumer. We found that if people 3-D printed only a handful of objects over a weekend they could justify building themselves a RepRap 3-D printer (a 3-D printer that can make its own parts). After that, it was all gravy: as “prosumers” they could make custom objects and offset thousands of dollars of purchases every year. For example, to recover the $500 investment cost of an open source printer, you could print a single pair of custom-made $600 orthotic foot supports.
This was not overly surprising to me.
You see, my lab has saved tens of thousands of dollars over the last few years printing
our own open-source scientific equipment. Science equipment is often produced in such small quantities that it does not benefit
from economies of scale. So, the costs of proprietary science tools are shockingly
high. We routinely save 99 percent on tools we make ourselves. Lots of scientists
are doing this now as well and sharing designs for free. If they share their designs others are more likely to build off of them—and then in
the open source spirit of sharing—re-share improvements. We have done
Shower Curtain Economy
Scientists and people that need custom products like orthotics are one thing and one might think the average Joe is different.
That is why the data that really shocked me was the economics of the humble shower
curtain ring. There is no reason that mass manufactured plastic shower curtain rings
made by cheap labor in a Chinese factory with no environmental regulations and shipped
for free from Amazon should cost more than 3-D printed curtain rings made from
Yet the 3-D printed ones are cheaper. It seems profits sucked out of each layer of the system make even simple things cost far more than they need to.
Today, anyone with a 3-D printer can download free designs for shower curtain rings and manufacture them in their own home for less money than they can get them at the Dollar Store or Wal-mart or even eBay. Better yet, with a little effort, you can customize your curtain rings – and thus make a MORE valuable item for you than anything available online.
The number of free designs is exploding—millions of products already exist. Young people, in particular, get this “sharing thing.”
This is good for our wallets—but it turns out that manufacturing at home with 3-D printers is also very good for the environment. We have completed several studies that show it, and so have many others.
Taking Recycling to the Next Level
Most commercial 3-D printed plastic filament is made from fossil fuels, so while manufacturing
at home is less environmentally damaging it still hurts the planet. Fortunately, many
versions of a
Commercial filament used for 3-D printing sells for $25–50 per kilogram. If you buy bulk plastic pellets for producing your own filament, you can cut the costs down to $5 per kilogram. However, if you recycle your own prints or use waste plastics, the price plummets to about 10 cents per kilogram. Neither slave labor nor prison labor can hope to compete with that. As you might suspect, if you recycle at home rather than transporting waste all over the place for centralized recycling, it is also better for the environment. You would be right, home recycling is an environmental boon.
The plans for producing
The Sunny Side of Sustainability
Old-school environmentalists might worry about the electricity to run these machines.
Again, technology is finally maturing in the right direction. Solar photovoltaic costs
have dropped like a rock, and it is now less expensive to produce solar electricity on the roof of your house than to buy
it from the electric company in most of
To top it off, there are now even solar-powered 3-D printers and anyone can get the
plans for free here. These printers can be used to make what you need at your house, from deserts in the
developing world to Arctic
There is no golden ticket to a sustainable future. But all together solar-powered, do-it-yourself technologies are our ticket to a sustainable future without fossil fuels and their resultant pollution.
I think most people, even if they disagree with his politics, want to be like George
W. Bush and make their own stuff because it has more value to them. In the past, they
could not afford it because conventional products that decimated the planet were so
much cheaper. This is all changing. I think we all will start to do more than
"This is a life we can all enjoy, whether your family ever lived in the White House or not."Joshua Pearce
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.