Gizmos & Gadgets: New Solar-Powered 3D Printer Converts Desert Sand to Glass

I recently came across a machine called the Solar Sinter. First tested as a prototype in 2011 in Morocco, Solar Sinter is a 3D printer that uses silica sand found in world deserts as the material source. Its inventor, Markus Kayser, is a German product designer who wanted to produce an eco-friendly, sustainable technology that could use natural energy sources to manufacture things using natural materials.

Why desert sand as a material resource?

Because as Markus Kayser states, “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.”

What does sintering involve? It is a process for converting materials from powder to solids through the application of heat. The Solar Sinter uses a large Fresnel lens as the means by which to generate heat by focusing the Sun’s energy on sand which then melts to become glass. Like most 3D printers it features a movable platform that gradually lowers as glass is fashioned on the spot and deposited layer by layer to build an object. Watch the video Kayser recorded last year showing the way Solar Sinter works. It is fascinating.

How much would a Solar Sinter cost? I cannot find a price anywhere in the literature but Kayser states that a Fresnel lens costs about $600 U.S. The rest of his jury-rigged device looks like it has been built from a kit of commonly found parts. I’m guessing the total package is a little more than $1,500 U.S. tops.

Solar Sinter requires no special software. It takes CAD-created drawings and receives the output which gets stored on a memory card before being fed to the printer mechanism.

Considering the amount of sand out there in deserts right around the world,  Solar Sinter sounds like the kind of tool that has uses in lots of places where raw sand is abundant but manufacturing infrastructure is not.



Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...