Volvo installs 3D printed Living Seawall tiles in Sydney Harbour to combat ocean plastic pollution

Volvo recently installed its 3D printed Living Seawall in the Sydney Harbour to promote marine biodiversity. Approximately half of Sydney’s coast has been converted to manmade seawall over the last 200 years due to increased urbanization, a process that has removed large sections of mangrove jungle, and along with it all of the marine and coastal life that resides and feeds in and around the interweaving mangrove roots. That marine life has a purifying effect on the water as many of the organisms feed on toxins, chemicals, and particulate matter that are the result of human pollution.

While Volvo has already committed to a ban of single-use plastics across all of its offices, canteens, factories, and events by the end of 2019, they’re also promoting other initiatives to actively and passively clean the oceans of the plastics and pollutants that are already there. For the 3D printed Living Seawall, Volvo partnered with North Sydney Council, the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, and Reef Design Lab, a Melbourne-based designer of marine habitat infrastructure.

“We’ve lost 50 percent of the world’s mangrove forests, and in their place, we’ve built things like seawalls, which proliferate around Sydney Harbour. Tearing down the seawalls is not viable,” said Nick Connor, Managing Director of Volvo Car Australia. “There’s a Swedish word, omtanke, that means ‘caring’ and ‘consideration.’ I think that really captures what we’re trying to achieve with the Living Seawall, and it sums up Volvo’s approach to sustainability in general. We’re always trying to rethink, reinvent, redesign for the better.” When it comes to redesigning, there’s no better ally than 3D printing.

The project draws on biomimicry, where natural systems are simulated, with each hexagonal tile incorporating the interwoven structure of mangrove roots as well as a more complex texture underneath to encourage the growth of microorganisms. The tiles were cast from a 3D printed mold using a mixture of cement and recycled plastic. The layers from the FDM (fused deposition modeling) 3D printing process are still visible, but that’s actually a good thing because it’s the same texture as oysters, which are one of the filtering organisms expected to take up residence in the tiles; the matching texture will aid the oysters in growing onto the tiles.

North Sydney Mayor Jilly Gibson remarked: “These new habitat tiles on our seawalls have the potential to help rejuvenate Sydney Harbour by bringing more marine life back into our waters.”

It’s always good to see policymakers on board with 3D printing as it generally saves everyone money while accelerating innovation, just as it did here. These 50 tiles were incredibly cheap to fabricate and install but could have a huge impact on the health of the Sydney coast, and eventually the world’s oceans.

Alex Goad, Industrial Designer at Reef Design Lab, said: “Volvo’s Living Seawall shows what can be done…Living Seawall flips a harmful structure into a marine habitat and presents a unique opportunity to research which specific designs and geometries are the best to support the ecosystems in our oceans.” Efforts to rejuvenate our oceans with 3D printing are promising, including the similar project of 3D printing coral prosthetics.

Watch the video here.


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