3-D printing, also known by its technical name of "additive manufacturing," is a concept that makes tech-heads and entrepreneurs bubble with excitement. President Obama even gave 3-D printing a shout-out in his recent State of the Union address, talking about a government-sponsored lab in Ohio for testing and scaling new technologies: "There's no reason this can't happen in other towns," he said.
Indeed, 3-D manufacturing could make any town a hub for the production of goods -- or any home for that matter. As costs for 3-D printing technology continue to drop, theoretically, in the near future, anyone could produce toys, car parts, batteries, clothing, and a range of other products the consumer (now the manufacturer!) dreams up.
This could dramatically improve the efficiency of the economy. In an oft-cited study, the Department of Energy estimated that 3-D printing can reduce energy costs by 50 percent and cut material costs by 90 percent. This could also change our definitions of what constitutes the manufacturing sector, the commercial sector and the residential sector. Is a commercial business that is printing and selling medical products now a healthcare manufacturer? Is a guy printing custom car parts out of his garage now an auto manufacturer?
"This will reshape the built environment," said Skip Laitner, an economist who focuses on energy efficiency. "This has the potential to revolutionize the way we make everything -- and the implications for energy use are large."
Indeed, that shift in our traditional manufacturing could also have a positive impact on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So could 3-D printing be a part of a comprehensive climate and energy efficiency strategy? The Climate Desk has a short video (embedded below) about how the technology could play a role. It's a little light on specifics about how 3-D manufacturing could actually address CO2 emissions, but it does offer a look at the different areas where the technology could be applied.