A team at MIT has created a color-changing 3D printing technique. ColorFab, honed at the university’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence lab – or CSAIL – uses light-adapting, or “photochromic”, dyes to allow objects to change color when exposed to different levels of UV light.
The team says ColorFab could reduce waste in the garment industry, as customers could buy clothing that changes hue depending on the occasion. This could be extended to jewelry, significantly cutting down production of clothes, and closet space, worldwide. Right now CSAIL claims it takes 23 minutes for an item to shift color, but adds that time could be drastically reduced if more powerful lights are used in the process.
Its goal to change the entire garment industry, which is valued at $3 trillion globally, and which comprises 2% of the world’s GDP, may be lofty. But there is no doubt that the market causes a huge amount of environmental damage: it currently takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce just one t-shirt (beef, another product often criticized for its water use, consumes 2,400 gallons per pound).
So great is the garment industry’s impact on the environment that one insider, Eileen Fisher, recently estimated it to be the world’s second largest polluter, behind oil. The US’ Environmental Protection Agency says that 15.1m tons of textile waste was generated in 2013. CSAIL hopes its latest innovation can put a significant dent in that figure.