May 31, 2016 | By Andre

We live in a world where more and more of our appliances and devices are branded as being smart. From smart watches, thermostats and phones, the continous wave of intellegent sensors and communication protocols are letting us interpret the world we live in more precisely than ever.

This push for ‘smart’ technology is about to enter a field you might least expect thanks in-part to 3D printing and research being pioneered by Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer and her team revolving around the idea of smart rocks.

While smart rocks may not be high on most year-end gadgets wishlists any time soon, the basis for research has far reaching implications on both science and society.

Made possible by the winning of the highly coveted €3 million European Research Council Advanced Award, the idea is to be able to use 3D printing to replicate porous structures found naturally in rocks, while at the same time embedding sensors within that will track temperature, pressure and chemical composition changes as liquid flows through the 3D printed replicas.

Up until now, the nature at which water flows through rocks at varying densities has been difficult to track. Professor Maroto-Valer suggests that, “by 3D printing our own core samples we can decide exactly what sort of rock we wish to study, and implanted micro-sensors will be able to tell us directly, in real-time, what is going on as gases and liquids pass through them. This fundamental knowledge at such a tiny scale will feed hugely into our understanding of such processes at the large scale and enable us to maximize the success of industries from oil extraction to water safety and the storage of captured CO2.”

Geological based industries relating to the extraction of oil and gas along with the security of water, food and energy supplies are expected to benefit from the research made possible by the grants provided under the ‘excellent science’ pillar of Horizon 2020.

While the technology behind the 3D printing process of the smart rocks hasn’t been included in the announcement, what is known is that the 3D printed smart rocks will be precisely crafted enough to replicate, in a laboratory setting, what actually happens deep underground and at the microscopic level.

The accuracy in planned sensors is something that hasn’t been possible in the past. Maroto-Valer continues that, "while extensive work over the years has given us some idea about how liquids and gases move through porous rocks at a large scale, we haven’t been able to understand how the process works at the very small pore scale,” and that “we are very excited about this award and the opportunity to bring interdisciplinary innovation building upon Heriot-Watt’s world leading expertise in process and petroleum engineering and manufacturing.”

The award to continue the team’s research was well earned. Competing against more than 1,900 applicants (only sixteen of which were selected for a grant), the 3D printed smart rocks were considered in the realm of the potentially groundbreaking.

Utilizing 3D printing as a the primary means to produce the smart rocks makes perfect sense considering its ability to produce highly complex structures in perfectly repeatable ways (similar to what is being done with 3D printed foam). Learning more about the geology that influences our everyday lives is something that will will continue well into our future and 3D printing will be along for the ride in a growing number of ways.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive