Apr 27, 2017 | By Tess

Researchers from the Deakin University School of Engineering in Australia are developing a solar-powered 3D printing system that could be used in developing regions to additively manufacture plumbing and sanitation supplies out of plastic waste. The 3D printer project is part of a larger effort to find uses for the vast amounts of discarded plastics that pollute developing regions and to provide a clean water supply to the same communities.

The project, called 3D WASH, is aiming to make access to WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) easier for developing communities, a change that would have an especially important impact on local women. The project is being led by Dr. Mazher Mohammed, a research fellow at the Deakin School of Engineering, and is expected to be trialled later this year in the Solomon Islands in partnership with Plan International Australia, a children’s charity.

As Dr. Mazher explained, 3D printing technology is becoming an increasingly important technology in developing regions as it has the potential to transform plastic waste into useful items for local communities. “This kind of 3D technology can be used to rapidly replace broken plastic seals, pipes, and other devices essential for water supply or sanitation,” he explained. “This is critical as many disaster zones and developing areas do not have reliable access to power.”

Dr. Mazher Mohammed

In this respect, 3D WASH is not the first project of its kind, as charities such as Oxfam have been investigating 3D printing’s potential to provide aid to disaster-stricken and remote regions of the world. It is, however, one of the first projects to explore the potential of a solar-powered and sustainable 3D printer for those purposes. “Not only will the printer be able to use plastic rubbish found nearby, but it will also run off a solar-powered battery,” said Dr. Mazher.

Of course, reusing plastic trash is also an important aspect of the 3D printer’s sustainability, as the idea behind it is to process plastic waste (such as PET bottles) into small pellets which can then be melted and transformed into 3D printing filament. Plastic waste, which is found en masse in many developing regions, contributes significantly to both land and water pollution, making life more difficult for those living in those regions.

The project, which is entering its prototyping stage, will initially be geared towards producing replacement parts for sanitation and water systems that could help communities to keep their water systems running relatively smoothly. Having the means to produce replacement pumps, taps, and other parts on-demand could have a big impact on communities, as it could provide greater autonomy to communities (reducing both the time and costs of waiting for companies to provide replacements parts), thus opening up the door for better education, health, and safety.

"If we can prove the concept and get the technology working well, it can be used across a raft of different fields, not just water and sanitation. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination about what you can print. The potential for this is amazing,” commented Tom Rankin, Plan Australia's Manager for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene.

3D WASH is currently raising money to develop the 3D printer’s first prototypes through a crowdfunding campaign. At present, the campaign has already raised over $19,000 AUD, but is still shy of its $30,000 goal. Contributors to the innovative and humanitarian project include the English Family Foundation, Plan International Australia (which contributed $10,000), and Deakin’s Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and School of Engineering.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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