Recent grant funding from the Hermiston Education Foundation is changing the way that Hermiston High School’s Computer-Aided Design classes handle their excess plastic.

The plastic comes from 3D printers, which build three-dimensional objects from computer models, using layers of material in a process known as “additive manufacturing.”

This year, computer technology teacher Robert Theriault applied for a grant to “make computer science green,” on behalf of CAD students using the printers, particularly 17-year-old Rogelio Lemus.

“When we’re 3D printing, there’s a lot of waste,” Lemus said. “In our testing so far, we’re able to recycle some of it.”

Lemus, a senior, is planning on entering a science, technology, math or engineering (STEM) field after graduation. He has two 3D printers at home, and this year he’s devoting an independent study class to learning how to recycle the excess materials they produce.

He said he’s already taken all of the CAD classes that Hermiston High has to offer.

Theriault said it took Lemus just one day of fiddling to learn how to properly recycle the plastic materials called filament— which is purchased on a spool, like thread— that students use in the 3D printer to make models of their designs.

Lemus said that Hermiston High School CAD classes typically utilize polyactic acid filament, which is derived from corn starch or sugar. It costs about $15 to $30 a spool, and he said the classes go through about 20 spools each year.

When a design goes awry, or has a support structure that becomes waste after the print, the excess plastic is rendered unusable. But now Lemus and other students can grind that plastic down by hand, melt it, and restructure it onto a new spool with the help of an extruder.

“It’s definitely time-consuming,” Lemus said.

Both he and Theriault hope to purchase a blender to make breaking down the plastic pieces a little bit easier, because otherwise the grinding is done completely by hand.

The heating and spooling process is time consuming. Lemus said the whole process can take about four hours.

In the back of the CAD classroom, a cardboard box of odd plastic shapes in all colors and sizes waits to be reprocessed. So far, Lemus and other students have reproduced half a role of filament.

The extruder and grinder arrived last week, and cost $1,700 total.

“We figure this will eventually pay for itself, and divert waste from the landfill,” Theriault said.

In 2019, the Hermiston Education Foundation distributed $16,600 in funding to seven teachers district-wide. The foundation also awards multiple scholarships to students each year.

Saturday, the foundation hosted its annual crab-feed and auction fundraiser, which is where nearly 100% of its funding comes from.

“I’m so impressed with generosity of Hermiston,” George Clough, co-president of the foundation board, said. “We did well.”

Clough said that official figures will be tallied at the next board meeting, but that the Hermiston Community Center where the fundraiser took place was packed.

“Our goals are to basically supplement the offerings at the school district. Things that don’t fit into the mainstream budget,” he added.

This coming year, the Hermiston Education Foundation will begin offering scholarships to faculty to aid with certification updates.

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