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Desert manufacturing with 3D printers that runs on sun and sand

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
21st August 2012


Brian Nitz:

Markus Kayser .. designed and build a machine called a Solar Sinter. This machine uses photovoltaic panels to power a computer and the electromechanical workings of a 3D printer.

The print head holds a lens which concentrates sunlight from a larger Fresnel lens onto a tray of sand. This focused beam reaches temperatures of over 1400°C which sinters (melts) the sand to form a glass or ceramic object.”

Excerpted from an interview conducted by ‘Green Prophet’ Brian Nitz:

Green Prophet: What changes would you like to see in the way products are manufactured and consumed?

Markus Kayser: The Solar Sinter project is all about a potential which questions current manufacturing in a positive way. I would like to see changes in the way energy is used which in this case means to use the immense power of the sun in a more direct way than just the conversion to electricity. I think there is a basic logic, which is that sunlight is ‘powering’ this earth as a whole and that this energy can also be used to produce the products or even buildings.

GP: Given your imagination, sunlight, sand and enough financial resources– how would you improve the environment in the Mideast?

Markus Kayser: I would try to develop the material to be able to replace concrete as a building material. I would concentrate on architecture and water distribution as well as sanitary products.”

GP: Your project shows potential for desert manufacturing and architecture. Can it scale or should it always remain a small scale project for producing unique art?

Markus Kayser: Yes I think it can be scaled given enough funds to experiment on a large scale. I think it has already moved out of the ‘unique art’ context even though that’s what it is producing today. I hope that it influence on industry will show in the future. At the moment I’m sponsored by a big ceramic manufacturer (KOHLER) who are interested and supportive of the process as they see its potential for the future manufacturing. I think that’s a small start in involving industry to really start thinking in this direction.

GP: How will 3D printing change the relationship between consumers, manufacturers and the environment?

Markus Kayser: 3D printing is moving in two directions – desktop DIY printers and prints on demand for so called ‘mass-customization’ of products. I think both will have a great impact in how products are consumed as well as on manufacturing. If for instance I can modify the product to my personal needs before I buy it, it might have an impact on the way I feel about the product, its usability and I might think twice before throwing it away as I was part of its ‘creation’. This again could lead to less consumption. Also the way in which DIY 3D printers are looking at recycling the printed products, reusing the once printed but now unwanted products to make new ones at home.

GP: How will 3D printing change architecture?

Markus Kayser: In a way architecture has changed already through 3D printing as models of buildings are churned out by the hour in large architectural practices.

This means a building can be analyzed very quickly. 3D printed full scale architecture is just emerging with works by Fosters+Partners and Enrico Dini (among others) and it could bring about more ‘intelligent’ materials, which include walls with cavities for all wiring etc. as well as materials with insulating thermal properties with possibly ever changing qualities copied from natural processes. (see Neri Oxman, MIT)”

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