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A new federally funded microfactory unveiled at UNSW Sydney today is helping to deliver world-first technologies that include turning discarded plastic into high-quality 3D printing filaments. The microfactory was launched by the federal Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, today. 

“Innovations developed at UNSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) also include turning contaminated and mixed plastic into furniture products and into revolutionary ‘VitaketsTM’ used in making steel,” Ms Ley said.

“The new plastics microfactory is a commercial-scale model developed at the SMaRT Centre. The microrecycling technology is the culmination of years of work led by the SMaRT Centre Director, Professor Veena Sahajwalla, and allows industries to build modular recycling solutions which can be scaled up as demand grows.

Professor Veena Sahajwalla and federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley

Professor Veena Sahajwalla and federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley at the SMaRT Center launch.

“The microfactory’s 3D printing filament is a clear guide to what can be achieved. Australia currently exports waste plastic and imports filament for use in schools and business applications. This technology allows the waste plastic to be reformed in Australia, creating Australian jobs. This and other technologies being developed have completed pilot testing phase and are now producing exciting new products.”

The SMaRT Centre works with industry partners including western Sydney electronics recycler TES, which is producing VitaketsTM for Newcastle-based steel maker MolyCop as a replacement for coking coal.

After launching the microfactory at UNSW Sydney, Ms Ley visited the TES site in Villawood. 

Professor Sahajwalla said, “Frankly, we could not have done this without the government’s support, as well as from our industry partners who recognise the benefits of research and development.

“Apart from the economic benefits, there are obvious short and long term environmental and social benefits from being able to reform many hard to manage waste streams into new materials and products, and keeping these materials in use for as long as possible.”

Ms Ley is an alumna of UNSW Sydney, having graduated from UNSW Business in 1998. She said exciting new technologies such as the microfactory held “important keys to the future of our recycling economy”.

Creating new supply chains and value from discarded materials could help Australia be at the forefront of the fight against waste and create jobs, she said. Almost all of the filament used for 3D printing in Australia is imported but this capability could see Australian firms creating new markets, she said.