Environmental Chemistry

Cultivating an Environmental and Human Health Assessment Framework for Additive Manufacturing: A Journey from an Academic/Industry Partnership to a Consortia-Supported Model by Justin Bours

There often comes a point in a science graduate student’s academic career when the desire to step outside the ivory tower becomes inexorable: one step outside of academia toward industry partnership opens up a path that is tantalizingly tangible and impactful. When I took that step, I went on a journey of discovery that ultimately led to a maturing framework for measuring the environmental and human health impacts of additive manufacturing (AM) which has garnered both industry and academic credibility.

Stage 1: Initiate academic/industry collaboration

My path began with taking the Greener Solutions course at UC Berkeley, sponsored by the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry (BCGC). The class brought together graduate students to solve a green chemistry issue proposed by an industry partner. The feeling of making a tangible impact by leveraging my scientific knowledge was exciting and led me to seek more of these collaborations.

In the Fall of 2014, Autodesk approached BCGC to enlist their help in understanding the health effects of the AM resins they had developed in conjunction with their stereolithography (SLA) printer, Ember. Having sought out BCGC after the Greener Solutions course, I was subsequently tasked by then BCGC director Martin Mulvihill to tackle the issue. We formed a team with Tom McKeag, BCGC’s current director, and collaborated with a wide coalition of talented staff at Autodesk, including Dawn Danby, Susan Gladwin, and Brian Adzima. The initial challenge was limited in scope: how do the health impacts of Autodesk’s PR48 resin compare to those of other stereolithography resins? Further, how can bio-inspired design and knowledge of molecular structure lead to improvement?

Stage 2:  Explore solution to initial problem, reevaluate goals and comprehensiveness of solution

The results of our investigation were that Autodesk’s PR48 was best-in-class among SLA resin-types, but molecular structural elements, such as a bio-derived polymer backbone, could lead to improvements in health impacts. While a solution was achieved, it left much to be desired. My desire to improve tangible health outcomes and Autodesk’s desire to be a leader in sustainability led to interest in a more comprehensive solution. The goals for this comprehensive solution included:

  1. Create more informed decision making: create a tool that allows for easy comparison between materials/technologies.
  2. Allow for identification of improved processes, materials.

With these goals in mind and from analysis of the initial problem, we knew we had to take into account that AM technology and its materials are unlike others in their effects:  they create new exposure pathways, they lead to a dispersed distribution of waste, and they can potentially put sensitive populations at risk . Additionally, there is a large variety of different technologies, making one-to-one comparisons challenging. This shifted the focus from solely health effects to those who are affected. Moreover, determining who is affected required using life-cycle thinking.

Thus, we sought to define the life cycle stages of AM technologies through this new framework. This would inform who is affected and how, thereby guiding the specific tools used to measure the important impacts at each life cycle stage (i.e. chemical hazard assessment, sustainable materials management). During the development of this framework, Autodesk enhanced its academic collaboration with BCGC by partnering to create their own Greener Solutions course challenge. In it, they tasked students to develop novel green material solutions for SLA and utilize the framework to make sure that the two main goals were being achieved.[1]

Stage 3:  Reach a wider audience and gain academic credibility – publish results

With an opportunity offered by the Journal for Industry Ecology to publish our work in a AM-focused issue, there was greater impetus to further develop this framework. After all, academic affirmation of such a framework would enhance its credibility and validate its ability to adequately measure the impacts of AM. The framework and an example of its ability to compare two different AM materials/technologies was published in May of 2017.[2],[3]

Stage 4: Refine results and reach an even wider audience by getting feedback from key stakeholders

The framework was also generating interest from non-profit entities. Lauren Heine, co-creator of GreenScreen and head of Northwest Green Chemistry (NGC), had experience in collecting stakeholders in the development of human health and environmental indicators/frameworks and approached Autodesk with an interest in further developing the framework. BCGC, under the new direction of Tom McKeag, was also interested in developing the framework further. Thus, I was tapped to lead that development with the support of NGC and BCGC. In addition to strengthening certain elements such as end-of-use metrics, we sought out an extensive list of key stakeholders involved in AM systems and materials from industry, academia, government and NGOs, as well as experts of sustainability tools such as life-cycle assessment (LCA) and chemical hazard assessment (CHA). We then presented a summary of the most up-to-date framework, with the goal of obtaining feedback on how to improve it.

The result from the first roundtable discussion with stakeholders was a set of agreements, as well as concerns, about the goal of an appropriate assessment tool that supports decision making for material selection and product design. The agreements included the following:

  1. Results should be simple and visual
  2. There will always be tradeoffs and imperfect information
  3. Tradeoffs should be transparent
  4. No one assessment tool can provide all of the answers on sustainability.

Stakeholders were particularly concerned about the following:

  1. At what scale and scope of the assessment can a comparison be performed (i.e. how does one account for quantity of prints, can you compare materials between technologies?)?,
  2. How can all the variables that enter into decision making that includes metrics beyond sustainability (cost, function, performance) be balanced?
  3. How is a material reutilization or circularity addressed?

Stage 5:  Based on feedback from initial consortium, create and present a variety of prototypes that are modulations of the initial framework

The feedback from the roundtable discussion led us to bring in additional subject matter experts (SMEs) such as Alysia Garmulewicz who has authored papers on how 3D printing can unlock value in the circular economy [4], and Jeremy Faludi, an LCA expert, and former BCGC SAGE fellow, who has written numerous publications[5],[6],[7] on measuring the environmental impacts of AM using LCA. With Jeremy’s guidance, we determined that to best address the concerns in the previous discussion, we should create several different prototypes of modulated frameworks that target the concerns specifically. In our second discussion call with the stakeholder group, we discussed these prototypes and the feedback we obtained has allowed us to further refine the framework and the path forward.

Stage  ?: What’s Next

Throughout this process, the goals have remained the same – all involved hope to create a decision-making framework that 1) allows for easy, appropriate comparison between AM materials/technologies and 2) allows for identification of improved processes, materials. The form and breadth of that decision-making framework has yet to be determined, whether as a tool for government policy, as an internal tool for AM industry to make decisions, or as a standard like EPEAT or Cradle to Cradle Certified that AM industry can adopt to verify the safety and sustainability of their materials/printers. All remain exciting possibilities, however. What is certain is the great potential impact of academic and industry collaboration to create change-making mechanisms for improving the impacts of materials and technologies on our health and the environment.  So, for those peaking outside their ivory tower windows, or those in industry peaking inside, take a leap and prepare for a fruitful journey of discovery!


[1] See Autodesk’s blog posts about this collaboration in a three part series: 1, 2, 3.

[2] Bours, J., B. Adzima, S. Gladwin, J. Cabral, S. Mau. 2017. Addressing Hazardous Implications of Additive Manufacturing: Complementing Life Cycle Assessment with a Framework for Evaluating Direct Human Health and Environmental Impacts. Journal of Industrial Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/jiec.12587.

[3] Academic feedback was further garnered from presentation of the work at the Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference in June of 2017.

[4] Despeisse, M., M. Baumers, P. Brown, F. Charnley, S.J. Ford, A. Garmulewicz, S. Knowles, T.H.W. Minshall, L. Mortara, F.P. Reed-Tsochoas, J. Rowley. 2017.Unlocking value for a circular economy through 3D printing: a research agenda. Technological Forecasting & Social Change  115: 75-84.

[5] Faludi, J., C. Bayley, S. Bhogal, and M. Iribarne. 2015. Comparing environmental impacts of additive manufacturing vs traditional machining via life-cycle assessment. Rapid Prototyping Journal 21(1): 14–33.

[6] Faludi, J. 2016. Estimating the environmental impacts of widespread additive manufacturing. Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

[7] Faludi, J., T. Hoang, M. Mulvihill, and P. Gorman. 2016. Aiding alternatives assessment with an uncertainty-tolerant hazard scoring method. Journal of Environmental Management 182: 111–125.

Environmental Chemistry

Where are SAGE Fellows Now? October’s Feature

Every month we will be posting updates on current and previous SAGE fellows. This month’s feature fellows are Jeremy Faludi and Jennifer Lawrence.

Jeremy Faludi has just started as an assistant professor of engineering at Dartmouth.  There he is continuing his research on the environmental impacts of 3D printing; his chapter in the OECD book “The Next Production Revolution” was published over the summer, and he now has a PhD student beginning to investigate compostable biomaterials that enable low-energy 3D printing (rather than melting plastics or metals).  He also continues his work on green product design methodology.  He recently presented a paper at the ICED conference, “What Green Design Activities and Mindsets Drive Innovation and Sustainability in Student Teams?”   Finally, he has a grant from VentureWell to add sustainable design training to their website, encouraging university entrepreneurs to invent greener products and services.  He is interested in finding partners for research projects related to sustainable design methods and green 3D printing.

Jennifer Lawrence is interested in the development of microbial technologies for sustainable water and wastewater treatment.  She is currently a PhD Candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, within the Alvarez-Cohen Research Group.  There, she is studying the interactions among microorganisms within an anaerobic ammonium oxidation (anammox) reactor to better understand the reactor’s performance.  Ultimately, this research will inform and increase the efficiency of reactive nitrogen removal from municipal wastewater effluent streams.

Since 2015, Jennifer has also been an active member of the Engineers Without Borders – San Francisco Professional Chapter, and in 2017 she became co-manager of the Fiji Project Team.  In collaboration with her team members, Jennifer is working with a rural Fijian community to improve their access to safe and reliable drinking water through the implementation of small, community-led water improvement projects.

Environmental Chemistry

Meet the SAGE Trainees!*Updated*

The SAGE IGERT Fellowship at BCGC supports UC Berkeley graduate students conducting research related to green chemistry and green energy. The fellowship began in 2013 and now, two years later, there are nineteen trainees and alum doing amazing green work on campus.

We went out to speak to them about their research…and a few other fun things. We asked all the trainees to describe their work in the simplest terms possible: using only the 1,000 most commonly used words in the English language (thanks to the Up-goer text editor). We also asked the students for a recommendation–a bright new green idea in the world that they’re excited about–and got some great responses. So click through the gallery and get to know the BCGC SAGE IGERT trainees!



Environmental Chemistry

Outgoing executive director Marty Mulvihill reflects on five years with BCGC

Marty HeadshotI first fell in love with molecules in my sophomore organic chemistry course. I remember commenting to my lab partner that organic chemistry problems were much more interesting than crossword puzzles, and they should be included in newspapers (with spelling as poor as mine, crosswords were never very fun). After failing to convince others of the merits of Sunday chemistry problems in the newspaper, I entertained myself by digging into the chemistry of the materials and products in our everyday world. Understanding the design and use of molecules has become a life-long endeavor. These last five years at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry (BCGC) have been wonderful, providing me with the opportunity to deepen my appreciation of chemistry and the larger social, economic, and political structures that influence the selection of chemicals.

The mission of the BCGC is to advance the design, adoption, and use of inherently safer and more sustainable chemicals. We have made great strides in the past five years to normalize Green Chemistry and sustainability within the culture of chemistry. We have also succeeded in getting faculty and students outside of chemistry to be interested in how chemicals and chemistry both contribute to and can help solve many of the modern era’s environmental and health challenges. Our students and faculty have also spent an extraordinary amount of time translating the principles of Green Chemistry to broader audiences, including providing advice and training to state regulators, business, and K-12 students. These educational, research, and engagement projects have helped grow our Center from a handful of students, staff, and faculty into a program that has made lasting impacts on the way the people approach chemicals on and off campus.

We have be able to successfully bring faculty and students from a broad range of disciplines together to research and discuss both the drivers and barriers to Green Chemistry adoption. In the beginning, students and faculty struggled to find common language and approaches, slowing our progress on interdisciplinary initiatives. After a few iterations, however, we found the best way to remove these barriers was to assemble interdisciplinary teams of students within a classroom setting and have them work together to address materials selection challenges. These classes and projects have challenged the faculty to think and teach in new and more interactive ways, which has strengthened our ability to collaborate. By focusing on projects rather than lectures, we have been able to avoid trying to make everyone an expert on everything, and instead have focused on teaching techniques for productive collaboration and communication. The Greener Solutions program grew out of this approach and is now one of our flagship programs.

Greener Solutions has been a success because it simultaneously advances our educational, research, and engagement approaches to promoting Green Chemistry. During our early days as a Center we struggled to find ways to engage productively with external stakeholders. We spent too much time talking about what we might do and not enough time talking with people who were interested in solving particular chemical challenges. The Greener Solutions program partners interdisciplinary teams of students with external partners who have chemistry challenges. This is great for our students, who crave real-world application of their deep technical knowledge. It is beneficial for our partners, who gain insights into their chemistry challenges and have the opportunity to work with some of Berkeley’s best students. The program has also been a great testing ground for new research projects and approaches.

In just five years, BCGC has had a large and lasting impact on the educational landscape at UC Berkeley. Our initial grant funding in 2010 from the Cal EPA focused on the development of Green Chemistry undergraduate chemistry laboratory curriculum and the development of an interdisciplinary graduate course. By 2012, our team had managed to incorporate a dozen new experiments into the curriculum and, more importantly, we also helped create action within the Department of Chemistry to renovate all of the undergraduate labs and put Green Chemistry and sustainability at the core of this initiative. The Department went on to raise 10 million dollars for this initiative including a three million dollar gift from the Dow Foundation. Similarly, our interdisciplinary graduate class, first offered in 2011, has grown into an NSF funded educational program that funds 25 graduate students from departments across campus. We now offer two graduate classes and are continuing to engage more students on issues related to Green Chemistry.

This is an exciting time for the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry; in many ways we are still getting started. Institutional change is slow, but after five years we have built some momentum, and I believe that we will be able to have an even bigger impact on interdisciplinary research at the nexus of chemicals, basic resources, and manufacturing in the coming years. We have a number of new projects developing in the wings and I am very excited to watch how they take shape under the capable leadership of Tom McKeag and the Center staff and faculty. I am also looking forward to continuing my work with students pursuing projects with the potential to improve the safety and sustainability of chemicals and products. My interactions with students have always been the highlight of my role at the Center and I am grateful that I will continue to have the opportunity to work with passionate students and innovators in my new role as Senior Advisor.

What we have accomplished at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the College Deans and the Vice Chancellor for Research at UC Berkeley. The early support from the College of Chemistry, School of Public Health, College of Natural Resources, and the Haas School of Business were essential for giving the faculty the time and freedom to create the Center. We at the Center are grateful to our many funders, who include state and federal agencies, a number of foundations, and our industry partners (more information about these supporters can be found on our website). The Center has also benefited greatly from the interactions we’ve had with the larger Green Chemistry community around the country. Our curriculum efforts were supported by all of the work that came before us at the University of Oregon, ACS institute for Green Chemistry, and the Beyond Benign Foundation. Finally, I am personally grateful to all of the faculty, students, and collaborators that I have worked with during my tenure as Executive Director. I have learned something new every day and I could not have done it without all of you. Thank you!




Environmental Chemistry

BCGC in the news!

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BCGC students and their work have been making big waves in national media. Check out these great articles and get caught up on what everyone at BCGC is up to these days:

  • Noah Kittner, a SAGE fellow, co-wrote a letter to the editor with his adviser Dan Kammen advising sustainable energy development for economic growth in the Balkan region. The letter was published in The Economist.
  • Post-doc Heather Buckley is both in the news and writing it herself! The Indian start-up she works with to develop cheap and sustainable roofing materials was profiled in Fast Company. Heather wrote about her experience working in India, and the importance of designing safe materials with the global manufacturing workforce in mind, in an essay on TheConversation.com.

Great work everyone!