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Solar powered 3D printer creates glass objects out of sand
June 25, 2011 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Markus Kayser has designed and built The Solar Sinter, a solar powered 3D printer which creates glass objects out sand. Needless to say, the ability to create objects out of sand using solar power will be welcome in deserts. He took his machine into the Sahara desert to test it. Previously in the Sahara Kayser tested a similiar machine, The Sun Cutter, which uses a ball lens to create a kind of laser cutter.
posted by Kattullus (40 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
Kayser, what a glass hole!
posted by hal9k at 4:34 PM on June 25, 2011


And he used it to make Kanye West glasses....
posted by nathancaswell at 4:34 PM on June 25, 2011


Solar Sinter, however, is cool.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:39 PM on June 25, 2011


The sun cutter is neat, but its cutting capacity of 0.4mm plywood seems very limiting.
posted by ryanrs at 4:42 PM on June 25, 2011


wow that was REALLY awesome!
posted by rebent at 4:54 PM on June 25, 2011


are there pictures somewhere of the finished glass objects?
posted by rebent at 4:54 PM on June 25, 2011


I'll be impressed when the Solar Sinter can make another Solar Sinter.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:01 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


There are some shots in the video of finished glass objects - the printer seems very low-rez. Still, it's kinda neat.
posted by kafziel at 5:05 PM on June 25, 2011


I see a future where the sahara desert is full of self-replicating solar sinters, replacing the whole desert slowly with an glass biome, the world's largest glass factory.. Cool.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 5:06 PM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or a huge solar sinter, slowly converting the entire region into a single, gigantic bowl, displacing entire populations in an event know to the future as the Great Dust Bowl.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:24 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


He went to the Sahara with a solar cutting device and he made shutter shades?

look at this fuckin' hipster.
posted by boo_radley at 5:26 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are some shots in the video of finished glass objects - the printer seems very low-rez.

There are better photos on the site, the second link in the OP. Sand is relatively coarse so the finished objects are coarse, and the beam isn't focused to a fine point like a laser. In laser sintering, the medium is a very fine powder. The actual swath of the beam seems to be several centimeters wide, so that's the thinnest object you can make.

Now what puzzled me is a quote on the website:

the world's most efficient energy resource - the sun.

Now what the hell does that mean? Solar power isn't very efficient at all. There are other processes that are way more efficient in the sense of better conversion of energy with less waste heat. Maybe he means it's efficient because the sun is a fusion reactor? Well it's 93 million miles away, it isn't really the most efficient resource IN the world. And is stellar fusion really that efficient? I don't know how you'd even measure that. Maybe he means efficient in the sense that he didn't have to pay for the raw energy. That might be economical, but not efficient.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:33 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Could one achieve similar effects with clay I wonder. Imagine the pottery production capabilities.
posted by humanfont at 5:33 PM on June 25, 2011


I saw this today and considered posting it, but I figured someone else would. It's a very, very cool concept.

Here's a bowl that it made. Not really impressive looking, but I wonder if the design could be modified to melt sand outside of its box (and keep covering it with new layers of sand with a servo arm or something). An autonomous army of solar sintering robots could make some interesting large scale glass structures. Realistically though, could this technology be used to make useful glass brick housing? On Hack a Day, some commenters were interested in the possibilities of deploying solar sintering robots on the moon, where there's more sunlight (no atmosphere) and lots of fine powder to melt.
posted by MrFTBN at 5:36 PM on June 25, 2011


Damn, if the intertubes are correct the melting point of sand is between 1500 and 1700 celsius. Holy Fresnel!
posted by elpapacito at 5:40 PM on June 25, 2011


look at this fuckin' hipster.

Seriously. I'm trying to figure out how he can say "In a world increasingly concerned with questions of energy production and raw material shortages, this project explores the potential of desert manufacturing, where energy and material occur in abundance." and then use a fossil fueled vehicle to fly and then drive way out of his way to test it out.

Sure, maybe he wants to test it in the desert as some kind of proof of concept of "desert manufacturing", but the only real reason I can think of to go out that far is because it makes for a pretty video. Which it does. What, with the weird white outfit and mannerisms of the artist it's like watching a lost scene out of the Russian SF film adaptation of Solaris. Pretty, but not very practical.

There's no reason why he couldn't have tested the sinterer in a dusty Cairo parking lot or someone's yard.
posted by loquacious at 5:41 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Magnus Larsson thinks we should just let bacteria do this. (yes, I realize that is not sintering) Having seen that Ted talk, I thought immediately that Kayser's device should be used for making building materials.

In terms of efficiency, wouldn't we have to include the energy put into to the materials and construction of the unit itself? Not to mention the little fact that it's pretty hard to keep things un-sandy in the Sahara. He'd have to cover all those gears and belts and small moving parts. and, of course, the robotic arms that would brush away the excess sand in the self-replicating version
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 5:45 PM on June 25, 2011


Now what the hell does that mean? Solar power isn't very efficient at all. There are other processes that are way more efficient in the sense of better conversion of energy with less waste heat. Maybe he means it's efficient because the sun is a fusion reactor? Well it's 93 million miles away, it isn't really the most efficient resource IN the world. And is stellar fusion really that efficient? I don't know how you'd even measure that. Maybe he means efficient in the sense that he didn't have to pay for the raw energy. That might be economical, but not efficient.

Well, it's certainly more sustainable. As long as the components don't break down, his device could run every day for billions of years without requiring any further external power source. At that rate it may even run out of sand.

With a few minor modifications to the lens and extra robotic movement to produce even layers of sand, he'd be pretty close to making every day household objects. Ancient glass makers had to burn something to get their sand hot enough, so I believe this is a first in that respect as well. (Obviously his equipment is made from oil, but after a few years of operation I bet it would be more carbon friendly.)

Seriously. I'm trying to figure out how he can say "In a world increasingly concerned with questions of energy production and raw material shortages, this project explores the potential of desert manufacturing, where energy and material occur in abundance." and then use a fossil fueled vehicle to fly and then drive way out of his way to test it out.

A cool project that raises awareness about the possibilities of sustainable solar manufacturing is something I don't mind burning oil for. Almost every country has sun and sand, and with that you can make a lot of useful objects that are 100% recyclable to boot. With sane recycling programs for aluminum and steel, we could begin moving to a time where our products have lifecycles that perform better than oil to plastic to trash can.
posted by notion at 6:15 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Absolutely amazing; I love this. It's like a Sandyfab 6000!
posted by phooky at 6:16 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


A cool project that raises awareness about the possibilities of sustainable solar manufacturing is something I don't mind burning oil for.

Agreed, but he already "burned" oil making the device. I still don't see the point of dragging it (possibly half way around the world by way of air travel, then truck) out to some picturesque vista outside of the fact that it makes for pretty videos.

It's not like setting up glass-making factories in the middle of the desert is going to be sustainable or more efficient, anyway. You'd still have to import labor. Along with the labor you'd have to import lots of water, food and build roads in the middle of one of the most inhospitable and ecologically fragile places on the planet. So "field testing" it there for whatever reason is pretty damn pointless and unscientific.

Sure, as an idea it could be useful. It could build larger scale structures in sand. But as I'm outlining above there's a reason why people generally don't live in the deep desert, and living in a sintered-glass house in the desert sounds like it would get rather warm inside quickly because you're basically building a greenhouse or solarium.

But as presented it's basically artistic ecological snake oil. Yes, the Sahara has lots of sand and sunlight. Just because it has a lot of something that's readily, cheaply available doesn't automatically mean that it's useful.

Now if he could use it to help build a giant solar farm out there that might be useful. But the current reality indicates that it would be much more cost effective and efficient to build the parts and panels for that solar farm somewhere else where there's already an existing skilled labor pool and manufacturing base and access to water, because otherwise you're going to have to import all of those things to the Sahara.
posted by loquacious at 6:32 PM on June 25, 2011


The sun cutter is neat, but its cutting capacity of 0.4mm plywood seems very limiting."

Probably only limited by the size of his optics which aren't all that large.

charlie don't surf writes "Now what the hell does that mean? Solar power isn't very efficient at all. "

Primary fusion heat exchangers like this are pretty efficient if you are wanting to heat stuff. The big inefficiency is from re-radiated heat from non selective surfaces and there isn't much you can do about that.

MrFTBN writes "Realistically though, could this technology be used to make useful glass brick housing?"

This was my thought. Create a cam or series of cams to make interlocking bricks and you'd have an interesting building material that would require just the machine, a big pile of silica sand and some labour.

loquacious writes "But as I'm outlining above there's a reason why people generally don't live in the deep desert"

There are lots of places with large tracts of sand that aren't deep desert. There are places within a kilometre of where I'm sitting where there are acres of clean washed sand tens of feet deep covered by a thin layer of topsoil. Many river deltas and flood plains are probably similar.

loquacious writes "living in a sintered-glass house in the desert sounds like it would get rather warm inside quickly because you're basically building a greenhouse or solarium"

The sintered glass objects aren't clear so their solar gain is going to be low. If still unacceptably large a coat of paint or stucco will reduce the gain to essentially zero. And you'd have a lot of mass which is often desirable where daily temperature swings of 60+ degrees aren't unusual.

Besides there are other things you can do with bricks. Paving stones and retaining walls are a couple possibilities that come to mind.
posted by Mitheral at 6:59 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are lots of places with large tracts of sand that aren't deep desert.

This is exactly my point of complaint about him going to the Sahara. I like the object, it's like something out of fictional Fremen technology from the Dune books. You could do useful things with it, but you might even be able to get similar results with a hand-held Fresnel lens and a pair of welding goggles.

I'm mainly griping about the presentation. In my opinion going out to the Sahara is draping the project in weirdly framed geopolitics.

Why the Sahara? Is he trying to allude that this would be useful or helpful to people who live in the Sahara? Or is he simply just borrowing the mysticism mystique of Africa? Surely they have sun and sand closer to London than Egypt or the Sahara? Why not Spain, or a nice beach in Greece? Why not anywhere on a sunny day with a bag of commercially available sand?

Granted, it's an art/design project, not an engineering or social aid project. I guess this is sticking in my craw because I'm sensing that it's art for the sake of grant-writing. Come up with an interesting design and then write the grant to "test" it in the Sahara. Surely it must be tested in the Sahara to truly field test it. Plenty of sand, lots of sun, great scenery. Bam! Instant paid working vacation to Africa!
posted by loquacious at 7:17 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Agreed, but he already "burned" oil making the device. I still don't see the point of dragging it (possibly half way around the world by way of air travel, then truck) out to some picturesque vista outside of the fact that it makes for pretty videos.

1) Christ almighty bro.
2) Showmanship. It works.
3) Pretty sure he's an artist foremost, regardless.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:20 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


1) Christ almighty bro.

I'm sorry. I like to talk about and critique art. I like this project enough on it's own, but going over his previous work I'm increasingly of the personal opinion he might be a bad artist of the dispassionate, grant-hungry sort. The scourge of MFA programs everywhere.

Obviously he's intentionally doing something provocative enough to keep people talking about it. Especially with the sun-cut shuttered hipster sunglasses, that's pretty provocative and "what the fuck, man?" in a way that's carefully and intentionally planned commentary bait. Meta-irony? Meta-postirony? Ironic postirony? I don't know.

That trick of using a metal stencil is pretty good, though. You could adapt that for street art and urban tagging, or marking all sorts of things, or crude sign printing.

This is also getting into the weird area where design and art overlap. Design should have a purpose. Art doesn't need one, but design does.
posted by loquacious at 7:36 PM on June 25, 2011


Agreed, but he already "burned" oil making the device. I still don't see the point of dragging it (possibly half way around the world by way of air travel, then truck) out to some picturesque vista outside of the fact that it makes for pretty videos.

You're gonna shit a brick when you find out how much Christo's works had to tap into the world's fabric reserves.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:37 PM on June 25, 2011


There are better photos on the site, the second link in the OP. Sand is relatively coarse so the finished objects are coarse, and the beam isn't focused to a fine point like a laser. In laser sintering, the medium is a very fine powder. The actual swath of the beam seems to be several centimeters wide, so that's the thinnest object you can make.

So you're saying there needs to be a way to focus the beam more, and a way to grind the sand down into finer powder or something, and then this could be cranking out smooth and detailed things? That would be a lot more interesting.
posted by kafziel at 7:39 PM on June 25, 2011


So you're saying there needs to be a way to focus the beam more, and a way to grind the sand down into finer powder or something, and then this could be cranking out smooth and detailed things? That would be a lot more interesting.

Can the light from a fresnel lens be further focused by a secondary lens?

I'm out of my depth, here.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:57 PM on June 25, 2011


I still don't see the point of dragging it (possibly half way around the world by way of air travel, then truck) out to some picturesque vista outside of the fact that it makes for pretty videos.

Maybe it only works with fresh sand.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 8:10 PM on June 25, 2011


Kind of a tangent but if your interested in the industry in the ancient world there is a rad episode of Nova on Hulu called The Quest for King Solomon's Mines.

There was a huge for the time metal production facility, including tons of pollution. It's pretty amazing ancient technology that operated in the desert.
posted by thylacine at 8:19 PM on June 25, 2011


Maybe it only works with fresh sand.

Nah, if that were the case you couldn't/wouldn't use cullet (recycled crushed glass) in making glass. It's actually easier and more energy efficient to remelt glass than it is to fuse fresh sand. From an engineering/design standpoint sifted and filtered silica sand would result in a finer, less random product. Very fine grained sands are commercially available at less cost than it would take to go to a remote location.

But maybe you were being rhetorical/facetious.
posted by loquacious at 8:20 PM on June 25, 2011


Well, what is the loose material on the moon's surface made of? Could it in fact be fused into a kind of glass or ceramic?

(While we're at it, how about Mercury?)
posted by newdaddy at 8:43 PM on June 25, 2011


Frit. Not glass. /grar
posted by Ahab at 9:41 PM on June 25, 2011


Well, what is the loose material on the moon's surface made of? Could it in fact be fused into a kind of glass or ceramic?

It's mostly silica. It could be fused. In fact you may have a lot of good reasons to sinter it around human outposts because the lunar dust/soil is a problem. It's very abrasive, sticks to everything and isn't very good for humans to breath.
posted by loquacious at 10:13 PM on June 25, 2011


ChurchHatesTucker writes "Can the light from a fresnel lens be further focused by a secondary lens?"

You can but the lense has to be able to stand up to the concentrated beam.
posted by Mitheral at 10:14 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like the idea of astronauts on the moon holding their breath because the dust is unhealthy.
posted by ryanrs at 11:28 PM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


That might be economical, but not efficient.

Being economical is being efficient with money. If you look up "efficient" in a thesaurus, you'll even find that "cost-effective" is listed as a synonym. Words have meanings besides the narrow ones used in physics and engineering, you know....
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:42 PM on June 25, 2011


Agreed, but he already "burned" oil making the device.

You would also have to "burn oil" to make a device that used fossil fuels to melt glass. (Small glass furnaces use electricity, I'm not mistaken, and larger ones use natural gas.) And yeah, to get the natural gas, coal, or whatever, you must also burn fossil fuels to dig the coal, drill for gas, transport the fuels, etc. Measures of efficiency should consider the entire chain of production.
posted by tommyD at 5:02 AM on June 26, 2011


I like the cams that control the X/Y in the Sun Cutter. He took the cartesian coordinates of his pattern and encoded them as two cams using polar coordinates.
posted by warbaby at 8:17 AM on June 26, 2011


loquacious: "Well, what is the loose material on the moon's surface made of? Could it in fact be fused into a kind of glass or ceramic?

It's mostly silica. It could be fused. In fact you may have a lot of good reasons to sinter it around human outposts because the lunar dust/soil is a problem. It's very abrasive, sticks to everything and isn't very good for humans to breath
"

Oh my god. I thought that was just a joke the Portal 2 writers came up with.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:24 PM on June 26, 2011


Solar energy (of the kind he is using) is efficient in the sense of getting a large amount of energy out for a small amount of energy in. For an investment of 0 joules in, you can get ∞ joules out. That's a pretty good conversion rate. If you need higher temperatures, you can spend a few more joules to make a huge fresnel lens (or mirror array)...and still get ∞ joules out.

You don't have to have a logistics plan to pipe it from the sunfields under Saudi Arabia, you don't have to crack it in a solar fractionating tower and you don't have any unusable pieces of sunbeams left over the dispose of afterwards.
posted by DU at 5:18 AM on June 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


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