Apr 26, 2018 | By David

A professor at the University of Arkansas has recently been given a major grant to expand her research into the use of soil as a 3D printing material. Michelle Bernhardt-Barry, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Arkansas, received a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development award from the National Science Foundation. She is studying the structure of soil and how to make it more effective for bearing heavy loads, with a view to 3D printing optimized soil material in future construction projects.

(credit: University of Arkansas)

Bernhard-Barry’s research has explored the ways that different natural structures can respond to the demands from heavy loads. "Nature has many examples of materials with hierarchical structure that demonstrate ultimate efficiency through various cellular or geometric patterning, biological drivers and other weight-bearing mechanisms," she said. "These mechanisms maximize strength and toughness while minimizing material and energy consumption."

A good example of natural hierarchical structures is the honeycomb. The geometrical form of the honeycomb, with its arrangement of open, hexagonal cells, gives it a strength that its material properties alone could not provide. Construction projects often build upon soil as a foundation, and have attempted in the past to improve the strength of the material by adding cement or other aggregates. Bernhard-Barry believes that it could be more effective to exploit natural structures like the honeycomb in order to optimize the granular arrangement of the soil itself, rather than adding anything extra to it.

(source: FoodTank)

Her research will investigate further into the geometries of natural hierarchical structures that are efficient load-bearing mechanisms, and develop laboratory and field-scale models based on them. She then hopes to use 3D printing technology to incorporate these structures into soil samples, improving its strength through an optimized arrangement of layers.

For construction projects that build on or with soil, samples of the soil would be gathered and then enhanced through 3D printing. Instead of relying on inferior soil or adding the extra materials like cement that are often expensive and difficult to get hold of, using 3D printed soil layers would be much more efficient and cost-effective. 3D printed soil layers could also be customized for location-specific demands, such as shallow foundations, aggregate columns, lightweight backfills, flood-relief wells and levee or dam filters.

(source: WASP)

This 3D printed soil research could prove particularly useful for construction projects in underdeveloped areas where resources are limited, and for building in extreme conditions. Optimizing soil arrangements through 3D printing technology would be a good way to improve construction in areas that have been affected by wars or natural disasters. Further in the future, this 3D printed soil could also be used in the construction of roads, buildings and other infrastructure in remote areas like Antarctica or even the moon and Mars, where it would be difficult to deliver conventional construction materials and equipment.

We’ve reported before on the potential for 3D printing technology in the construction industry, with various 3D printed concrete structures already being completed all over the world, and this expansion of the range of possible 3D printable building materials points the way forward for an eventual revolution in the way construction projects are carried out.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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