Quantcast

Solar-Powered 3D Printers a Game-Changer for Developing Countries

Business

We've already seen how 3D printing can tackle plastic waste and even create nutritious food. And now, the ever-expanding technology is also bringing simple yet potentially life-saving devices to people in developing countries.

3D printing has become an increasingly affordable and life-changing technology to places in need, such as manufacturing simple medical devices in Haiti. Photo Credit: Field Ready

Joshua Pearce, a materials science and engineering professor at Michigan Technological University, invented the first mobile, solar-powered 3D printer. His website shows a whole range of 3D printing possibilities, such as wind turbines, hand-cranked power generators, medical braces, breast pumps, prosthetic leg covers, water spouts and more.

Incredibly, his designs are open-source, which means people can use, study, copy and change a design for free, he told The Guardian.

The prospect of using solar-powered printers is especially important for locations that have little to no access to electricity or when power has been destroyed by a natural disaster such as an earthquake. As we mentioned previously, about a quarter of the world’s population—1.6 billion people—live without electricity.

It could also produce important devices at pennies to the dollar. For example, Pearce's lab created an open-source 3D printable colorimeter for testing water which cost only $50 and worked just was as well as one costing $2,000.

In Haiti, the nonprofit organization Field Ready and their partners are working to make medical devices as varied as umbilical cord clamps, IV bag hooks, oxygen tank valves and even prosthetic limbs using 3D printers.

A 3D printer "can now print an umbilical cord clip in less than eight minutes,” said Field Ready's Dara Dotz. Photo Credit: Field Ready

In the video below, Dara Dotz, Field Reader designer and co-founder described how a simple umbilical cord clip could be printed out in under  10 minutes. She also pointed out the importance of producing products on-demand in the onset of disasters, such as the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

"During the earthquake, the airport was actually overflowing with a bunch of materials, some of which were not needed," she said. "[But] the tools and medication that were needed couldn't actually get access because of the congestion."

In other sustainability measures, the organization is training and hiring local residents to use 3D printers and also piloting the use of recycled plastics in order to cut waste. They also hope to eventually switch to solar-powered 3D printers, as their current printers run on batteries and generators.

"The items that we can actually manufacture tend to be small but the ability to make many different things is what's really unique about it," Eric James, the director of Field Ready, said. "As long as we have the basic power source and the designs, we can fabricate virtually anything that would be needed."

As 3D printing technology becomes more and more affordable, the possibilities for manufacturing scientific equipment and medical supplies are endless. Peter Bermant, a senior at Park City High School in Utah, used a 3D printer to create a concept syringe that could mix vaccine ingredients as it's injected into a patient, eliminating the need for refrigeration (a costly hurdle for off-grid communities). A University of Washington team of students used 3D printing to turn waste plastic into composting toilets and rainwater harvesting systems.

The video below shows Alois Mbutura, a 21-year-old electrical engineering student at the University of Nairobi in Kenya, who used a MakerBot 3D printer to create an affordable medical device that helps doctors administer intravenous needles to infants. It's said that about 100 of these devices could be produced in a day using the 3D printer.

"The vein finder was actually a solution that the School of Health and School of Engineering partnered to reduce the inability of health care people to find veins in babies and also for it to be economical and suited to Kenya," said Mbutura.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Solar-Powered Tent Keeps Food Fresh Without a Fridge

GoSun Portable Stove Reinvents Solar Cooking

Developing Countries Lead Global Surge in Renewable Energy Capacity

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less
Protesters hold a banner and a placard while blocking off the road during a protest against Air pollution in London. Ryan Ashcroft / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images

By Bridget Shirvell

On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.

Read More Show Less
Coal ash has contaminated the Vermilion River in Illinois. Eco-Justice Collaborative / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Jessica A. Knoblauch

Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.

That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.

Read More Show Less

picture-alliance / AP Photo / NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center

The Group of 20 major economies agreed a deal to reduce marine pollution at a meeting of their environment ministers on Sunday in Karuizawa, Japan.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pope Francis holds his General Weekly Audience in St. Peter's Square on Aug. 29, 2018 in Vatican City, Vatican. Giulio Origlia / Getty Images

Pope Francis declared a climate emergency Friday as he met with oil industry executives and some of their biggest investors to urge them to act on the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A vegetarian bowl with quinoa fritters. Westend61 / Getty Images

By Ketura Persellin

You've likely heard that eating meat and poultry isn't good for your health or the planet. Recent news from Washington may make meat even less palatable: Pork inspections may be taken over by the industry itself, if a Trump administration proposal goes into effect, putting tests for deadly pathogens into the hands of the industry.

Read More Show Less
Florida's Deerfield Beach International Fishing Pier, where the record-breaking beach cleanup took place Saturday. Jeffrey Greenberg / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

More than 600 people gathered on a Florida beach Saturday to break the world record for the largest underwater cleanup of ocean litter.

Read More Show Less