Solar-Powered 3D Printer’s Future Is Built On Sand
The SolarSinter project makes objects from sand and sunlight – and it will be on show in London in September.
The inventor of a 3D printer, which runs on solar power and uses natural sand as its raw material, is hoping his device will find applications in architecture, design, and even outer space.
The SolarSinter, demonstrated in the Egyptian desert by artist/technologist Markus Kayser earlier this year, is entirely powered by solar energy, and builds up 3D objects using a lens to focus sunlight and melt sand into glass, in layers which build up to form a solid object. Since the demonstration, Kayser has had interest from various sources, but admits there is considerable work to do to make the results commercial.
Artistic statement, or practical reality?
The SolarSinter, so called because the process of making glass from sand is called “sintering”, consisted of a mechanism which automatically followed the sun. It contained a flat bed on which sand was spread, and then fused it into glass by a beam of sunlight focused by a Fresnel lens. Solar panels rotated with the SolarSinter, to power the electronics.
“Commercially, I think it is a viable proposition,” Kayser said in an email to eWEEK Europe. “Having said this, there is a considerable amount of development ahead to refine the process which mainly depends on funding. My aim now is to develop it artistically as well as in collaboration with industry.”
Since the project’s media coverage in June, Kayser has had “considerable interest” from architectural practices and companies making bathroom and kitchen appliances. “The interest even goes as far as developing it for space applications,” he said – without expanding on that idea.
According to Kayser, the material is “not as robust as a commonly manufactured glass bottle”, because the substance is layered, and there are variations in both the sand and the sunlight used to fuse it – Kayser used local sand, unprocessed and with no commercial additives.
Despite this, the SolarSinter’s output is being analysed by materials scientists , who will look at its structural qualities and microscopic composition.
The objects made – such as the rather beautiful bowl shown above – have survived the journey back to London where Kayser is based, and are robust enough to be on show at the RCA Sustain Show of sustainable art and design, at the Royal College of Art in Sept/Oct.