Harnessing the Sun: 3d Printers Use Natural Sources to Make Wild Designs

Posted on 28. Mar, 2015 by in Technology, Technology Services And Companies

For his graduate projects at London’s Royal College of Art, Markus Kayser designed two groundbreaking products that are entirely powered by sunlight. First, his Sun Cutter uses a spherical lens to focus a highly concentrated pinprick of light onto a moving surface. Controlled by a camera and compact electronics, the system allows users to cut shapes into thin materials, similar to the way children use a magnifying glass to zap ants. In his video demonstration, Kayser headed to the desert and used its powerful sunlight to create a set of sunglasses from plywood cutouts. Overall, the Sun Cutter was an impressive first foray into solar-powered machinery.

3D Printers

However, his latest device is even more magical. Dubbed the Solar Sinter, it combines sun and sand in a way that has never been done before. All together, the machine uses solar panels, a Fresnel lens to focus the rays, a sensor that follows the sun’s movement through the sky, a battery to store solar energy, various electronics, and a one-man tent for Kayser to monitor the whole enterprise. Sintering, where a substance’s properties change by applying extreme heat has become a widespread method of 3D printing. . However, instead of using an electricity-powered laser to heat materials, Kayser’s sintering process heats the sand exclusively with raw sunlight.

To properly test the Solar Sinter, Kayser took a trip to Siwa in Egypt, a desert climate with sand and sun as far as the eye can see. He started by printing an abstract shape: something that would be difficult to achieve without 3D printing technology. Slowly, the sinter heated up the sand until it melted down and congealed into glass. On each pass, Kayser scraped a fresh layer of sand over the previous sinter work, so that the focused sunlight could build another layer on the creation. Finally, the finished product emerged as one solid piece that looks like a sandcastle, but is actually bonded together.

The Solar Sinter’s future potential is undeniable. Poorer communities that lack access to goods and electricity could use a device like this to create kitchenware, crafts, toys, and storage containers for food. Potters and sculptors could embrace the technology to help realize their latest masterpiece. On a grander scale, what if a designer constructed a giant sinter in the desert that could create houses? All it would take is a larger Fresnel lens, more solar panels, and a mechanism to scrape new sand across the ongoing building process. At that level, homeless people in desert climates would be able use their natural resources to build lasting homes, hospitals, and gathering places. In the new 3D printing age, we’re going to see more inventors coming up with clever ways to channel our universe’s limitless energy, while also reducing pollution on our planet.

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