3D printed soil structures that can grow plants
Researchers at the University of Virginia developed a method to 3D print soil structures with embedded seeds that sprout into plants.
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is becoming more and more popular in architectural design and building construction. The technology saves on materials and waste, and makes more complex geometries possible. It can also make building cheaper and faster.
To make the process even more sustainable, the Virginia team turned to soil-based ‘inks’ for the printing process. They used local soils and plants mixed with water. The only energy needed was to move the material and run a pump during printing. If the printed piece is not usable, the material can be recycled in the next batch of ink.
The researchers used two approaches to mix the seeds into the building, either printing soil and seeds in sequential layers and mixing seeds into the soil before printing. Both approaches worked.
The team experimented with walls and more complex geometric shapes, like domes. The 3D printed structures can support plant growth. However, the process likely only works with plants that can survive with little water and little nutrition, like stonecrop (genus sedum), which is already commonly used on green roofs.
For a similar project, click here.
Photos: University of Virginia