3D-Printed Concrete Project Awarded University Grant

Penn State researchers designed a 3D-printing system consisting of a dual mixer and pump used to produce 3D-print concrete. Photo courtesy of Penn State.

A research team at Penn State University (University Park, Pennsylvania, USA) consisting of faculty from various departments has developed an innovative concrete mix and 3D-printing system based on their previous work with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The interdisciplinary team of researchers recently received a $50,000 grant from the university’s Engineering for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (ENGINE) program, along with an additional $25,000 from the College of Arts and Architecture. Proceeds from the ENGINE grant will be used to complete proof-of-concept testing of the team’s new mixture along with some innovative reinforcement concept.

According to the university, the research team believes that 3D-printing technologies could “radically transform the construction industry and reduce its carbon footprint.” To that end, they’ve developed a cement-based mixture that is more environmentally friendly than conventional concrete, and which can be used for commercial use in home building and small building construction projects

This sustainable, high-performance concrete stems from MarsCrete, a cement-free product that the Penn State research team first produced for NASA’s 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Challenge. The team also designed a 3D-printer system for the NASA Challenge consisting of a dual mixer and pump used to produce 3D-print concrete. According to Sven Bilén, one of the co-principal investigators on the project, the concrete formulations and the printer system are interrelated to such an extent that “the design of one affects the design of the other.”

Once the 3D-printer system can mass-produce 3D-printed example buildings, the construction industry will experience reduce waste, faster construction, less labor, and a range of other benefits. “The technology for 3D printing of concrete is not being developed to replace conventional construction that can be carried out economically with existing methods,” says Ali Memari, lead principal investigator for the project. “Rather, this technology will be more useful for complex designs, where conventional methods of using formwork will be much more expensive or prohibitive.”

Researchers involved with the project point to the interdisciplinary nature of the project as key to understanding how each stream of research affects the printing process. Through these streams of research—material mixture, material characterization and design, and printing process and system—the researchers expect to have better control of the 3D-printing system and, therefore, will be able to create successful structures.

Source: Penn State News, www.news.psu.edu.