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This 3D Printer Runs On Sand and Sun

With fewer and fewer raw materials, the solar-powered Solar Sinter has great potential.

For those heading out to Burning Man this week, the combination of sun and sand may be more utile than you think. Markus Kayser, former design student at the Royal College of Art, used only sun and sand as raw energy and material to create glass objects via a 3D printing process with the "Solar Sinter" he invented.

Kayser first tested the "Solar Sinter" in the Egyptian desert after having designed his initial solar machine, the Sun-Cutter, just a year earlier. The original solar-powered, semi-automated machine used low-tech laser cutting techniques to harness the sun's rays through a glass ball lens and cut out 2D objects.. Working with sun—an endless source of energy—and sand—an endless source of silica (silicon dioxide) in the form of quartz—Kayser was inspired to apply the process to 3D objects.

When silica sand is heated to its melting point and then cooled down, it solidifies as glass. This is called sintering: using heat to transform a powdery substance to solid. Sintering is one of the main processes of 3D printing, or SLS—selective laser sintering, Kayser describes on his website.

While most 3D printing devices use laser technology and powder plastics, resins, or metals, the "Solar Sinter" uses a Fresnel lens, or flat lens with concentric rings, and replaces those materials with sunlight and sand. "I had the basis of an entirely new solar-powered machine and production process for making glass objects that taps into the abundant supplies of sun and sand to be found in the deserts of the world," Kayser wrote.

"The machine and the results of these first experiments presented here represent the initial significant steps toward what I envisage as a new solar-powered production tool of great potential."