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Can we turn local waste plastics into a 3D printed house?

An organic shaped tiny house in a natural setting

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Published
16 May 2024

Southern Cross University's ReCirculator team are working with Northern Rivers company Studio Kite to divert plastic from local landfill and into 3D printing housing. This video explains more details of the project.

My name is Andrew Rose I'm a professor of environmental engineering at Southern Cross University and I'm also the academic director for our regional circular economy accelerator or recirculator program.

Recirculator was lucky enough to be introduced to Studio Kite who are a local Studio here in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales that are involved in producing props for the movie industry.

Where we fit in with the circular economy and recirculator is that Studio Kite invented this giant 3D printer which they call Cadzilla and Studio Kite are not only interested in using their giant 3D printer to produce movie props but also it presents this great opportunity to 3D print from plastic all sorts of different parts that might be used for example for housing or other good initiatives.

Steven Rosewell from Studio Kite is really interested in substituting the kinds of Virgin Plastics that you might normally use with recycled plastic materials and this is a really exciting opportunity for us at Recirculator because we have access to potentially lots of different plastic material that's currently waste and if that can instead be used in cadzilla to create these 3D printed materials that can then be used for lots of other great purposes then that's a real win for the regional circular economy.

one of the real philosophical shifts in relation to the circular economy is this idea that waste instead of being something that's useless that we need to dispose of is actually just material that maybe is no longer useful for whatever purpose it was originally designed but can be repurposed or reused for something else and this can be really powerful because it's a source of not only materials but also inspiration and Innovation and Studio kite is a great example of that where even though cadzilla was originally designed for the purpose of 3D printing movie props, Steven Roswell saw the opportunity there to use cadzilla to uh really promote some of the principles of the circular economy which is to take materials that might have otherwise ended up as waste or in landfill so not just creating existing products using other materials but actually coming up with completely new products and new ideas that can then be used uh in really creative and in innovative ways to do things that we haven't been able to do before.

Studio Kite a theatre and film prop making house so lots of sets and unusual shaped objects which require sort of more organic building processes so using traditionally using polystyrene and fiberglassing and or clay and then moulding processes and we found over the years that that is incredibly wasteful it's huge dumpsters filling up with rubbish and things being wasted so over the last nearly 10 years now we've been seeing if we can hone down that waste process and 3D printing has become the answer to that because we can use recycled plastics which are destined to landfill

So with you know nearly 20 years of 3D printing getting one of the first Australian companies to have a little 3D printer we've sort of grown now where we have multiple machines and some of the largest machines in in the world for that matter that work really hard and fast we design these specifically for the purpose of building props and sets in unusual shapes and it's been really successful we've gone from Big 3 Cub meter dumpsters a week to basically the small domestic bin you know every couple of weeks recently with the bushfires we teamed up with a company and they install Wildlife nest boxes and then we thought well if we can do that then maybe we can do it for humans and take on the building industry as well.

You've got this huge Source here that's just going into landfill and we've got to we've got to start using that up so that's been my big mission over the last year so now teaming up with Southern Cross we've realized well maybe we can do this much more locally getting local recycled Plastics not having to transport them and turn them into locally used products.

There's a lot of these mac mansions that are being produced there basic walls basic Eaves but then they're just sticking him in a place where they're just getting the Westerly Sun is just beating in through the building they got to run the the air conditioner whereas that if that building was more homogeneous and more variable in its shape it could be easily redesigned to be more passive with its energy consumption so 3D printing was will give us that Advantage where we can modify the building to the position usually the bulldozers come in and level that all goes to landfill maybe a few bits get pulled out but generally it all goes to landfill but if we can use this building somewhere else it can be cut up simply in a day crane can pick up the pieces that can travel on the road and then it can be put down somewhere else patched and joined back up again and it can have another life that's the that's the ultimate you know that's really upcycling a building um the thought of chipping it up you know knocking all the coating off and chipping it up is is a solution but it would be nice to just sequest it in the building you know for a few Generations um so 3D printing has a promise in that respect coming from a theatrical and props building process and sculpting background it's like we don't have to do square boxes we can do interesting shapes and 3D printing means you can keep modifying the shape freely so you can print something one day and go we think this is a good idea this is a good shape you print that shape the next day you go you know what if only this corner was a little bit more rounded or this you know or we just made it wider it's going to be you can just get on the computer modify the file that day you can be printing the next version probably part of the success of Studio Kai is that we've always been looking for new technologies to see if we can improve the process so it's changing that mentality um and saying this this is a new product let's challenge it we're working with a a product that comes from all of these plastic drums from a food industry they don't know what to do them with them they're not sterile enough to be used for the food again I've got a whole bunch of them chipped up and I'm now doing all of these wall samples with them it's it works fantastic it's a really strong material and it'll it'll last as we know it's going to last hundreds of years especially if it's coated with the concrete it's going to last for a long time another really cool combination which we've been working with is fabric so when we put concrete on the inside we can shred up fabrics instead of using the fiberglass fibres like we new to on the outside we can use Fabrics to reinforce the concrete and stop it cracking we can use the biodegradable PVA as a binder get the bright colours of the fabric and use that as a paint so we're now eliminating even the pigment from the prop making process that's all shipped over the world and so we can get those pigments and put those into the buildings or or into the props it's a great solution.

So really the the more we think about a material we can actually find a replacement for it and it be circular. It's nice to have the the academics backing you up because they can measure something properly and and say well yes this is this is its tensile strength or its compression strength you're working with Southern Cross we can we'll come up with a with a design based on the the strengths of the materials that we create so once we combine these materials we can use very clever software to to to work out how it performs as a combination of materials and then we can present a design try it a full size and then the plan is over the next year to be able to test that full size building and just say yes it's performed what the computer said is actually happening in the real world and then then we can move forward and start Mass producing these houses and and you know take all those High um carbon footprint building materials out of the equation or reduce them dramatically.

Media contact

Sharlene King, Media Office at Southern Cross University +61 429 661 349 or [email protected]