Solar powered 3D printing aids Solomon Islands relief

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In the wake of heavy flooding in the Solomon Islands, a
team from Australia’s Deakin University led by Dr
Mazher Mohammed, and Plan International is using waste plastic
scavenged from local dumps as feedstock for 3D printed parts
for vital water supply pipes in the remote village of
Visale.

The cost of plastic waste

Up-cycling plastic for 3D printing is increasingly used
to address the severe environmental impact posed by plastic
waste. One report from the World Economic Forum, the Ellen
MacArthur Foundation, and McKinsey & Company estimates that
at the current rate there will be

more than one tonne of plastic per tonne of fish in the
ocean by 2050
.

Less than half of people in the Honiara, capital of the
Solomon Islands, are provided with waste collection services,
meaning illegal waste dumping is prolific and

“active garbage piles”
can be found on
many street corners.

One in five Solomon Islanders lacks access to clean
drinking water
.

This combination of factors made the Visale, a few hours
drive down the coast from Honiara, the ideal testing ground for
Dr Mohammed’s plastic waste fed 3D printer.

Pipe parts, pipe dreams

The 3D printer used by Dr Mohammed’s team is portable,
solar powered and capable of processing recycled plastic, all
features essential to the project’s goal of repairing damaged
pipes supplying the town of Visale. The pipes, which leaked
along their entire length, had previously been patched together
using the materials the locals had available, such as bike
tires, bamboo and garden hoses.   

One section of the patched together pipe. Photo via Dr. Mazher Mohammed.One section of the
patched together pipe. Photo via Dr Mazher Mohammed.

Replacement parts for the pipe were designed on a laptop,
whilst 3D printable pellets were made by grinding plastic waste
in a manually operated crusher. The resultant 3D printed
connectors fit perfectly.

The 3D printed water pipe connection fitted perfectly. Photo via Dr. Mazher Mohammed.The 3D printed water pipe
connection fitted perfectly. Photo via Dr Mazher Mohammed.

The team’s success comes in contrast to previous
maintenance attempts by the government and charities that
“often [got]out there [without]the specific parts needed”,
according to Tom Rankin, a program manager for Plan International, an
independent development and humanitarian organisation.

The team hopes the project will demonstrate the potential
of locally produced 3D printed parts to drastically reduce the
cost of essential maintenance in remote, disaster hit areas.
 

Commercialisation, ease of use and cost

The team is working on a commercial version of the
system, including a library of parts, so that future users will
simply have to load waste plastic into the printer and select
the part they wish to print. Dr Mohammed expects such a machine
to cost less than $10,000.

3D printing for sustainable activity and humanitarian aid
work

3D printers using more traditional filaments are already
being used in other relief efforts,

such as in Nepal where they are being used to print
medical supplies in remote regions
, or

Haiti where medical supplies such as prosthesis are been
printed at the point of use
.

3D printing with recycled plastic is also gaining a foothold
with environmentally conscious organisations. Reflow,
a company focused on sustainability, uses recycled PET plastic
to create the eye-catching displays in their stores
. In
Western Australia, GreenBatch
is addressing the region’s lack of plastic reprocessing
facilities by turning waste plastic into 3D printer
filament
.

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