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fab8nz Sustainability

This article originally appeared in Object magazine issue 63. A list of all articles from fab8nz is available here.

The sustainable benefits intrinsic in the technology within Fab Labs are numerous, without necessarily any conscious effort—digitally mapping on a CNC router can ensure the most efficient use of the material, for example, and machining circuitry as opposed to acid etching is arguably more environmentally friendly. However, a number of Labs around the world are taking a markedly more proactive approach to addressing environmental concerns.

Perhaps the most prominent example is that of Barcelona. Aside from the Valldaura ‘green’ lab proposed for a disused farmhouse in a large city park, Barcelona has grand plans for a Lab in every community. Combined with the anticipated proliferation of 3D printers in the home, this creates a city-wide distributed manufacturing network, allowing for localised fabrication based on digital files and user-centric, personalised designs that may be one-off but will perfectly suit the needs of the creator.

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Further, these Labs intend to also act as warehouses of material, taking advantage of discarded furniture left on the side of the road for city council collection that might otherwise end up in landfill. This ‘waste’ is a valuable source asset that can be recut and repurposed, and then integrated into new constructions, reducing the need to source virgin materials. Provided the outputs using this recycled material are durable, the sustainable benefits are obvious.

The danger exists that opening up the production model to every consumer might encourage consumption, with consumers flocking to the community Labs to build objects whenever they wish, but that is something the Barcelona network is actively addressing. their goal is something the Barcelona network is actively addressing. Their goal is to challenge the notion of design obsolescence and promote sustainable, local and personal consumption.

Where Barcelona is taking a somewhat more low-tech, human-centred approach to sustainability, Fab Lab San Diego is championing new fuel cells, sustainable harvested from water. Hydrogen energy is in no way new technology, and deriving it directly and efficiently from water has long been the goal. Developed by Arcola Energy, a division of Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies in the UK, the collaboration with the Fab Lab Store hopes to see hydrogen energy become the norm when developing new powered devices.

In addition, the San Diego Fab Lab is hoping to encourage Labs around the world to become hydrogen filling stations. While there is a consumer-level hydrogen fuel cell charging kit available, turning water into electricity and with a solar-powered add-on available, a global network allowing users to charge their batteries wherever they are in the world is key to expanding into a broader consumer market. And with the availability of the H2MDK (Hydrogen Maker Development Kit), there is no reason why new developments out of Fab Labs equipped with this technology cannot start to be flagbearers in the sustainable energy market.

These are only two examples of Fab Labs around the world working towards more sustainable models—there are many more, from recycling plastics in innovative ways, to reducing landfill by using plastics that will biodegrade in compost. Ultimately, the possibilities are only limited by the creativity of those involved.

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