Researchers Create Solar Powered 3D Printer to Turn Plastics at Sea Into Furniture

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The Great Pacific Garbage Patch may sound like something that inspired a series of 80’s trading cards for kids but it is actually the name for a swathe of plastic rubbish covering an area the size of Turkey in the North Pacific. Imagine the amount of recycling bins it would take to tackle something of that size. Then, realize that while The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is probably the most famous of the garbage gyres, it is not the only one. The North Atlantic and Indian Oceans also boast their own massive areas of debris.

seachair5

3D Printed Chair made from Sea plastic

Over the last several years there has been a great deal of publicity in relation to recycling programs that allow for the conversion of waste plastic into filament for 3D printers. The possibilities present in such an enormous source of recyclable materials was not lost on Studio Swine, a London based design studio run by Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami, who have developed the ultimate in responsible 3D printed furniture: the Sea Chair.

It began in Cornwall, UK where the duo collected plastic rubbish that had washed up on the shore. They built their own shredding and extrusion machines and began to create filament. That filament was then used to print a 3-legged stool they dubbed the Sea Chair. Their next step was to travel to sea on a fishing boat and use a machine of their own design to create another stool with the plastic harvested from the fishermen’s nets.

The Solar 3D Printer

The Solar 3D Printer

Building on their experiences, the designers of Studio Swine teamed up with Andrew Friend (identified as “a keen sailor, mechanical genius, and designer) to design and build a new solar powered plastic extruder that can be used to melt plastic anywhere, letting them take their 3D printing operation on the road…and the water.

Enter the Sea Dragon… The Sea Dragon is a 72-foot long, steel hull sailing vessel that was built in the UK in 2000. Originally crafted as a yacht for the Global Challenge Race, a competition with a 32,000km route, The Sea Dragon has since been repurposed as a research vessel complete with lab space, dissecting microscopes, surface net trawling capabilities, and the ability to make long-range unsupported journeys. The ship regularly makes expeditions to explore plastics at sea and, this October, the creators of the Sea Chair have an opportunity to travel on board to the North Atlantic Gyre.

To gather the funding necessary to participate in The Sea Dragon’s run, the pair turned to Kickstarter to ask donors to contribute £6,500 (approximately $10,625). With 18 days left in their fundraising campaign, they have already collected £4,083 (approximately $6,675) from a total of 78 backers. As with all Kickstarter projects, the funding is only delivered if the total amount is collected and all donation levels are accepted. If they are able to reach their goal, they will take their new machine on board with them as they travel to one of the largest sources of recyclable plastic in the world.seachair1

During their travels, they will collect plastics from the beaches of the Azores and Lanzarote as well as from the ocean itself. The plastic collected will be documented and then turned into a series of 3D printed objects relating to the voyage. In addition, the members of Studio Swine are working with Juriaan Booij, an award winning filmmaker to document and share the journey. Any funding raised above the requested amount will be applied to the production of the documentary.

As they travel, they will be keeping a Captain’s Log blog with images and information about their journey.  Have you contributed yet to this crowdfunding campaign?  What long term implications could this solar 3D printer have at sea?  Discuss in the solar sea 3d printer forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out the Kickstarter pitch video below, explaining this project in further detail.

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