AM Energy

Continuum Shoots to Cut Recycled Metal 3D Printing Carbon Footprint to Zero

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According to Additive Manufacturing Research (AMR), metal 3D printing materials were valued at $920 million in 2023. However, only a very small percentage of that sector is actually focused on generating quality powders from recycled metals. This is likely to change as resource scarcity, high prices, and environmental impact drive manufacturers toward sustainable alternatives.

Among the firms leading this nascent trend is Continuum Powders. The Houston-based startup is further reducing the impact of metal AM on the environment by signing deals with Priority Power and Airgas. These agreements will mean that not only will the company be producing materials from 100 percent recycled metal, but it will do so while reducing overall energy consumption significantly.

The contract with Priority Power will see Continuum receiving 100% renewable electricity sourced from hydropower. This shift to renewable electricity is expected to drastically reduce energy consumption – from 1700 kWh/kg to a mere 17 kWh/kg, a fraction of what is used when relying on traditional grid electricity. Further strengthening its commitment to sustainability, Continuum Powders has also partnered with Airgas for the supply of argon gas. This gas, essential in metal powder processing, will now be certified as being produced with 99.8% renewable green energy.

The Greyhound M2P 3.0. Image courtesy of Continuum Powders.

Last November, Continuum launched the latest version of its Greyhound M2P (melt-to-powder) platform. Relying on a high-intensity DC plasma heat source, the system melts and atomizes alloyed metal waste into powder in a single step, significantly reducing transportation, handling, and processing costs, and minimizing the need for mining new metal resources. The synergistic effect of these renewable energy sources, coupled with Continuum Powders’ unique processing methods, is anticipated to bring the company’s total energy consumption close to zero.

“It’s one thing to claim to be ‘green’ or use green energy,” stated Phil Ward, chief executive officer of Continuum Powders. “It’s a completely different thing to actually commit to the movement and offer customers a viable and truly transparent, sustainable offering that has a real and definable impact on their own sustainability and decarbonization projects. Continuum Powders is the only metal powders company today that is actively reducing its carbon footprint in every step of the supply chain as a goal to reach net zero carbon intensity.”

According to Grandview Research, the global recycled metal market size was valued at $1.07 billion in 2022 and is anticipated to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.6 percent from 2023 to 2030. Given AMR’s near $1 billion estimate for metal AM materials for 2023 in total, Continuum has placed itself at the head of a small pack of firms focused on recycling metal to create metal powders for AM. This includes 6K and IperionX, in particular.

If we take a 2:1 weighting favoring the AM market growth rate, reflecting its rapid growth, compared to the size of recycled metals overall, we might anticipate a CAGR for recycled metals for AM to about 24 percent. This figure is only an estimate, but, given the broad range of initiatives being pursued by the Biden Administration and governments globally, it could accurately reflect reality.

Because AM firms are already touting the technology as sustainable, it will become increasingly necessary for companies in the sector to address such important considerations as energy input. By doing so early on in its roadmap, Continuum has given itself a head start that may be crucial amid global decarbonization. For instance, when government agencies are awarding grants for advanced manufacturing, they may go for the more sustainable of the bunch.

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