3D printing with fibre-reinforced ice

Students at the Technical University Eindhoven created the first 3D printed grid-shell from fibre-reinforced ice.

A team at the TU Eindhoven has been researching fibre-reinforced ice, also known as pykrete, for the past five years. This material is a composite, consisting of water and cellulose (sawdust or paper). It is three times stronger and much tougher than ordinary ice, yet completely biodegradable.

The TU has realised various project in which the ice composite was sprayed on inflatable moulds. In 2014, they obtained the world record for the largest ice composite span of 30 metres in Finland. In January this year, the tallest shell structure was achieved in China. Read more about this project here.

In April 2018, Arno Pronk, leader of the project, patented ice composite suitable for 3D printing. Aside from cellulose, the mixture also contains Guar Gum and Xanthan Gum. These gums lubricate the nozzle and bind the water.

On 13 December, Pronk and 11 students travelled to the Harbin Institute of Technology in China to create the pykrete grid shell, which was successfully finished on 19 December. The structure is 1,8 metres tall and 4 metres in breadth. The printing was done mostly by hand, using instruments similar to piping bags. The mixture was placed on a net-like construction stretched across a balloon as temporary support.

Today is the construction’s inauguration.

Photos: TU Eindhoven