Solar-Sinter 3D printer creates glass objects from sun and sand


June 27, 2011

Markus Kayser tests his Solar-Sinter in the Egyptian desert

Markus Kayser tests his Solar-Sinter in the Egyptian desert

Image Gallery (6 images)

We've seen a growing number 3D printers that use additive manufacturing technology to form objects one layer at a time, usually from resin or ABS plastic. But Markus Kayser, an MA student at the Royal College of Art in London, has created a 3D printer that creates 3D objects using two things found in abundance in the desert - sun and sand. As well as being powered by the sun via two photovoltaic panels, the Solar-Sinter also focuses the sun's rays to heat sand to its melting point so it then solidifies as glass when it cools, allowing the computer controlled device to produce glass objects from 3D computer designs.

Kayser's inspiration for the Solar-Sinter grew out a previous solar-powered machine he created called the Sun-Cutter. This device was a low-energy version of a laser cutter that was also powered by the sun and focused the sun's rays through a glass ball lens to 'laser' cut 2D components from 0.4 mm thick plywood, paper or card using a cam-guided system. Kayser says the experience of testing the Sun-Cutter in the Egyptian desert led to the idea of the Solar-Sinter.

Whereas many traditional 3D printers use lasers to melt and soften materials, such as resin or plastic powder, until the particles adhere to each other in a process known as sintering, Kayser realized he could use the sun's rays in place of a laser and silica sand in place of resin or plastic powder to create 3D glass objects.

Kayser first tested a manually-operated solar-sintering machine in the Moroccan desert in February, 2011, and, encouraged by the results, developed a larger and fully-automated computer driven version that he took to the Sahara Desert near Siwa, Egypt for a two week testing period in May.

That device consists of a large Fresnel lens that focuses the sun's rays to a focal point onto a platform holding the silica sand. Two photovoltaic panels power a sun tracker that keeps the focal point on target. When one layer is completed, the platform drops down to allow for the sintering of the next layer, and so on until the object is completed.

Kayser says the results of those first experiments, which can be seen in the video below, "represent the initial significant steps towards what I envisage as a new solar-powered production tool of great potential."

The Solar-Sinter is also on show at the 2011 Royal College of Art graduate exhibition currently running until July 3, 2011.

Via: PhysOrg

Markus Kayser - Solar Sinter Project from Markus Kayser on Vimeo.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Wow. Even in its raw state the art is beautiful. Surely has industrial potential. Someone in the UK invents something and then we loose it. I hope not. Should be called the Royal college of commercial arts

Andrew Kennedy

now I can make the ultimate sand castle!

Steven Howie

Can you build a house like this?

Justin Scheller

@Justin, My thoughts exactly!

Paul Anthony

I do not know what the initial cost would be, but this looks like a game changer for poor communities in Africa. Imagine a community pools its money to buy one of these. They then produce many of the things they need for free from local sand. Bricks for houses (maybe shaped so they fit together like leggos or something so you do not need mortar), household implements like pottery, maybe even furniture, some tools like light gardening tools (if the glass is not too brittle). Each person could pay a small amount for the products to pay back for the machine. It would make a great cottage industry.


Kayser\'s idea is actually pretty old. For instance, Martin Caidin released \"High Crystal,\" his third Steve Austin novel, back in 1974. The plot had a concentrated solar power furnace built by an ancient civilization inside a pyramid.


Now if we can just make the items GLASSY and smooth.... and perhaps with the FINE detail aspect - this could be very useful....

The industrial grinding stone effect, however, is quite charming too.

Mr Stiffy

I think it\'d be FASTER to make bowls and stuff out of CLAY then kiln fire them. I\'d say that bowl took quite a few hours to produce judging by the real-time speed of the thing, but it sure does have potential!


Realizing that a tool that is hot enough to melt sand is hot enough for a lot of other things, this is pretty amazing.

Charles Bosse

If it can melt sand it can melt steel and many other metals. Put some thinking on that for this device.

Gregg Eshelman

Guys, it can\'t melt sand. It can get sand hot enough to be sintered, but the grains are still intact. Just the outermost layer of each grain gets hot enough to stick to its neighbors, hence the rough look. With the air in the sand acting as an insulator, it would take a considerably larger solar collector to gather enough sunlight to actually create molten silica. Not to mention he\'s heating a very small bit of sand at a time before moving the focus. Think of the old childhood practice of using a magnifying glass to set items on fire. You had to focus the sunlight onto a very small spot or it didn\'t work.


@Leithauser: great thots! Take this concept and simplify it by losing the computer/cnc/digital parts and employ a reflector-type concentrator. Make the gantry follow a predefined path to trace, for example, the outline of a brick-sized rectangle. Voila! A viable micro-business that allows locals in Saharan and sub-saharan countries to manufacture their own building materials, as well as for possible export. I would think cinder-blocks made in this way would be ideal building material - durable, and when filled with something (like sand?) would be fairly well insulated, I\'d think.

Another possiblity: if the shapes created are water-tight, then jars & cisterns could be made - very advantageous in those regions. Cool stuff, regardless...


How about sticking the sand grains together with resin? A heck of a lot easier. The resin could be applied as in ink jet 3D printing. In the video, I was amused by the guy dragging the equipment in front of the camera, rather than moving the camera. I think it is one of the worst filmed videos I have ever seen. What an enormous effort to make the machine and then cart it to the Sahara! Surely it would work anywhere. Sand is available, apart from in the desert.


This would be a perfect crowd pleaser at Burning Man.


Let us take this process a step further.. If the end product of this sintering process can create a deivce that is solid and can withstand low pressure densities. why not computerize control the machinery and send it to the moon. There an automated machine could create structures capable of being presurized and used as buildings for humans to reside and work,etc.

And... if it can be done on the moon why not on Mars. The place could be prepared well before exploration crews will get there, without having to ship materials from here to that location. Something not economically freasible now. NASA needs to know about this process.. Ken D.Sr.

Ken D.Sr.

There\'s a Second Life project to model a solar sinter unit that\'s big enough to cook moon dust into roads, building materials and even bearings. Making a house in the desert should now be easy. With the unit displayed in the video you could sinter bricks, tiles, short quarts beams, and containers. It would be slow but you cold build buildings and walled oasis gardens. There are places where wind blown sand overwhelms villages a bank of these solar sinter units could turn the sand into stone as it comes creating tons of building materials. Cement and the water for it is too hard to get in a desert so this is much cheaper.

Wesley Bruce

Aren\'t there larger versions of this approach operating as Solar forges in the Arizona desert? I seem to remember reading about this on Gizmag a year or two ago. Great bowl though eh? I\'d buy one. Also interested the idea of a \'suntracker\' that runs on some PV panels. Nice. Clever guy.

Chris Clarke

About using this for shelter on the moon. There are apparently miles of huge underground lava tubes under the surface of the moon that would be ideal for shelter. We could have a moonbase quickly if we didn't insist on "bringing our own."

Benjamin Wade

Wonderful idea! Sun and sand may be available everywhere but the Sahara is probably better as there's nothing between them and the sun (i.e. smog or water vapour in cities).

Shame they couldn't get a truck which they can fit in to get home! (see the video)


I think you'd get a more uniform output if you automatically delivered sand to the focal point instead of troweling sand in layers.

You're obviously seeing layers fused together now; but if you had a compressed air source blowing sand at the focal point constantly you wouldn't see that.

The blowing sand would stick to the melted sand and melt in turn.

Varying the rate of sand delivery would also allow smaller structures.

One way to do this would be to make the table and the Fresnel lens frame move back and forth while the Focal Point was motionless relative to the ground and the external sand-blower. The hot spot would stay still, but the table would move back and forth.

William Carr
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles