3D Printing – Eco-Friendly Tech Changing the Construction Sector

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Yes! You’ve read the title right. The construction sector which is arguably the most environment-influencing factor. The concrete out of which most of the buildings are made up of is claimed to be the most destructive material on Earth. Its sustainability and influence on the environment is questioned and negated by environmentalists all around the world. But, something that anyone cannot do about it is, till we have an alternative that really can work as a sustainable and is not a concern at all for the environment, and then essentially prove it to the market, we have to have what the market has i.e. concrete and its variants. 

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At a time when there is a whole lot of exciting talk that as soon as the election results are out in the United States of America i.e. on November 4th, the US will formally withdraw from the Paris agreement on constraints regarding global heating. At such a time, we present to you this article which is based on the video that we came across i.e. an interview of a Ph.D. professor and student who give their services at Texas A&M University, Texas, United State taken by the American Chemical Society. 

As soon as there is a talk that emerges out which has the mention of a Ph.D. in it, it is a stereotypical mindset of every mind to be curious about the research that is going on. So, here is something that you can feed your mindset too, regarding these guys’ research. “Building buildings using local soil and 3D printing.” Yeah! Their video is titled “3D printing greener buildings using local soil.” And this article touches on some of the studies that they’ve discussed in the video as well as the questions that were answered in the same. 

Fall 2020 Virtual Meeting and Expo by ACS

Source: acs.org

“I’m working with several colleagues at Texas A&M as part of a president’s extant initiative. The president of Texas A&M challenged us,” think of out of box solutions to some of the biggest problems facing mankind.” So we are working with the groups of…” goes Sarbajit Banerjee professor Chemistry at the Texas A&M University while giving his introduction and the story behind that drove them to research what they are currently researching. 

“We are in the midst of this sort of cross winds where we have got deteriorating infrastructures in much of the western world,” justifies Mr. Banerjee by giving a reason why they chose a topic related to construction,” Whereas a lot of emerging economies through a massive construction Boom. And if we do this all the concrete… The consequences for the environment are going to be quite catastrophic.” 

The ACS National Meetings are a platform where chemistry professionals meet to share ideas and advance scientific and technical knowledge. Every year this platform attracts thousands of chemical professionals. There are meetings organized wherein excellent opportunities are there for sharing your passion for chemistry, connecting with the world’s largest scientific society, and advancing your career in this ever-changing global economy.

The video demonstration of the structure they’ve created using local soil.

 

Two minutes into the interview you have a video that’s played similar to most of the videos that you will see related to 3D printing, wherein layer by layer a structure is built. And in this case, the structure that is built is by taking suggestions of the architecture team that works in coordination with Mr. Banerjee’s student, Ayushi Bajpayee. As Ayushi goes in the later part of the interview when asked about the tapered shape of the prop that she is holding,” so, if you want to think of a big scale of this project, it’s like a stadium. Basically, you have the little types of internal like phases here. But, then outside architecturally, it looks super cool. So, that’s our collaborators from the architecture department.”

Questions that we answered regarding the technicality of material and structure that they’ve printed

“Do you cure the material to solidify it and if so, how do you do that?” asks Sophie Rovner. Answering this question, Ayushi goes,” So, that’s a good thing about this material that normally cement needs humidity to cure because it absorbs water, but this material does not absorb water. So, if you keep a structure like that in a room and it holds the shape as soon as it comes out of the printer so, you don’t have to worry about the shape and curing takes like,” continues Ayushi,” in order to get the strengths that we reported, we usually do like a seven-day strength test. So, we let it sit for seven days and then let the whole cross-linking reaction happen and then do the strength measurement.”

Another interesting question that came up regarding the technicality of the material was,” how does the carbon footprint of the 3D printed material compare with concrete?” Mr. Banerjee took up the question and as soon as Sophie Rovner completed reading it, he went,” So, one of our colleagues, professor Manish Dixit, is actually doing very exhaustive evaluations. So the numbers look pretty good, we haven’t fully accounted for it, but it’s going to be many folds less than that of concrete at this point.” Continues Mr. Banerjee,” For one we’ve reduced some of the most energy-intensive steps, clinkering, which you know, for ordinary Portland cement that’s a huge deal. High-energy grinding, all of those steps are no longer required. We’re also using much less materials because there’s lot’s lot less waste, there is not transportation of materials over long distances. Which is a kind of interesting thing because our reliance on these non-local materials is relatively new.”

Taking us back to history Mr. Banerjee goes,” the norm was really more that take what you had or around you to build that. Traditional cultures have now used that. So, the reliance on concrete is relatively new and so, I think setting the clock back there has lots of opportunities for sustainability.” 

Answering other questions related to the technicality of the material Mr. Banerjee and Ayushi said that building this material would require soil. Not necessarily top soil but, clays like excavating places. One of the examples that Mr. Banerjee says in the interview having performed is taking the muskeg soils from the sub-arctic and solidifying it. 

Questions regarding the challenges that they’ve faced while doing this research

“You’ve experimented with soil near college station, you’ve done some work in the arctic. Are there areas where you couldn’t use this? Or would pretty much any type of clay work?”

Before answering this one, Mr. Banerjee appreciates the question and then goes,” we are playing with symbolism and Lunar soil and the reason it’s so challenging is because they tend to be extremely irradiated from all the radiation out in space. So, they are very clumpy and there is not much byway of natural materials out there you can use to hold it together so, I think that is the challenge.“

Answering another question about naturally sourced zippers and the source for that material, Mr. Banerjee let’s Ayushi answer it because she is one who is competing for an award at the Industrial Engineering Chemistry section and that’s one of her findings.

“It’s called CDAC,” starts Ayushi,” it is extracted from the beach root industries. So, it’s the by-product from the beach. It’s super cheap and it’s available and it’s basically a byproduct. So, it’s easily usable.”

Ayushi concluded on this material as a source because she was trying to understand the chemical phenomenon that is happening inside the clay and how she can inhibit it. She was successful in resembling the structures she needed. But while she was looking for sources that have such qualities in nature is when she could relate to this material. 

Similar kind of attempts by a different firm

Potterbot, a company based in Florida, USA specializes in ceramic 3D printing. To date, the company has manufactured nine printers. And what makes us write about them with the research of Professor Banerjee and Ayushi’s research interview conducted by the American Chemistry School is the relativity of their research with experiments made by Potterbot. from our visit to their website, what we can see is how the makers of this website have attempted to create structures that can be used to stay in. Of course, they have not constructed buildings, as we have right now. But, the structures that they’ve constructed seemingly have been constructed out of clay and local soil. Which is exactly similar to what Professor Banerjee and Ayushi are emphasizing in this interview. 

So, if you go on Potterbot’s website

There is something specific that the website has mentioned on one webpage for viewing which you need to click on the Scara Gallery option present on the Info tab of the company’s website. When you open that webpage you encounter the title i.e. See Our Scara models in action.

Scrolling down, the webpage is divided into left and right. On the left, you have images taken while the printer must have been at work, whereas on the right you have images of lesser known facts. The first one on the right is an image uploaded by Instagrammer named “rrael.” What the caption of this image, without hashtags, reads is,” On the 40th anniversary of the Smithsonian Magazine, they announced the 40 things you need to know about the next 40 years. Number one on that list was: “Sophisticated buildings will be made of mud”. Portable 3d printing using local materials (clay, water, and wheat straw), pushes the boundaries of sustainable and ecological construction. We collaborated with 3 dpotter to make the future of construction possible in the borderlands by demonstrating how indigenous traditions and technology come together in Colorado’s remote SanLuisValley.

The second post on the right has a video which shows how accurately and speedily one of the printers by 3D Potterbot prints a specific part. The video is uploaded by the 3D Potterbots instagram channel. The third post is again by the user who posted the first one. And its about building experimental structures that are placed at a location somewhere in La Florida, California and their strength has been tested. The people inside this post are people of the team of 3D Potterbot..

For information related to this, you would have to contact the company. And they will, for sure tell you about their experiments with these structures and how long did it stay, where did it stay and things like that. But isn’t it amazing how the thing which the researcher’s Professor Banerjee and Ayushi are talking about is something that has been experimented by this company Potterbot. If they could maybe use each other’s findings of the research something fruitful related to infrastructure is sure to come out, what do you say?

The Conclusion

This perspective is still under the developing stage enough that when asked the biggest object that the makers of this perspective could demonstrate was 12 centimeter. But seeing the reasoning of Mr. Banerjee regarding the model systems, Ayushi went on to say that they are still at the developing stage for bigger structures. The fact that the machine which is needed to print structure is a printer of a bigger volume. The printer that was used to print the prop that Ayushi showed was the biggest one that they had. Though they are moving forward by having a bigger printer which has a bigger nozzle to get a much bigger structure. 

3D printing has taken the world by storm before as well, and especially in the times of pandemic when the world is seeing how it is helpful at building products with social distancing in place. So, technology is really the need of an hour. And when researchers are thinking of something really organic to restructure the basics of construction, it’s really worth appreciating. A special acknowledgement to this should be given considering the fact that 4th November is not too far. 

 

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