Life cycle assessment of integrated additive-subtractive concrete 3D printing
A life cycle assessment (LCA) was conducted on an innovative concrete 3D printing system, offering the following main advantages: (1) additive and subtractive capabilities, allowing for the automated post-processing of printed parts, including operations such as surface polishing, grooving and drilling and (2) the use of a cable robot, which is less expensive, lighter, more transportable, more energy-efficient and more easily reconfigurable than alternatives such as gantry-type systems. The production of a 4-m height structural pillar was assessed, comparing it to production with traditional methods, namely, using a mould. The study included the entire supply chain of the 3D printing equipment, operation and end-of-life, based on real data from the design and operation of a demonstration plant installed in Spain. Data for traditional construction was based on literature and expert judgement. The 3D production process included printing the pillar perimeter in four pieces with 3D printing concrete, transporting to the construction site and reinforcing and casting with conventional concrete. Traditional production involved reinforcing and casting with the mould on-site. The results show that when only one pillar needs to be produced, 3D printing has a lower environmental impact in all the environmental indicators assessed when compared to using a mould that is discarded after a single use. As an example, GHG emissions are lower by 38%. It was also found that the contribution of 3D printing to the environmental impact of producing a pillar is almost negligible, representing less than 1% of the pillar's total GHG emissions. However, when the same pillar needs to be produced in higher numbers, the results show that 3D printing and conventional production have a similar environmental impact, given that the mould used in conventional production can be reused, becoming a comparatively efficient option.