How 3D printing could provide clean water to communities while promoting recycling and solar power

Dr. Mazher Mohammed (third from left) and his team at Deakin University.
Dr. Mazher Mohammed (third from left) with his team at Deakin University.

Deakin University (Waurn Ponds, Australia) is currently working on a world-first breakthrough technology capable of printing plumbing and sanitation supplies using discarded plastics. The “3D WASH” technology will be carefully tested and evaluated in the Solomon Islands by Children’s Charity Plan International Australia later this year. Dr. Mazher Mohammed, Research Fellow at Deakin’s School of Engineering, heads up the team developing the 3D printer prototype. “This kind of 3D technology can be used to rapidly replace broken plastic seals, pipes and other devices essential for water supply or sanitation. This is critical, as many disaster zones and developing areas do not have reliable access to power,” Dr. Mohammed added. “The important part of this project is its sustainability. Not only will the printer be able to use plastic rubbish found nearby, but it will also run off a solar-powered battery.”

A drain clogged with plastic bottles is not an unusual sight in certain regions.
Drains clogged with plastic bottles are not unusual in certain developing communities.

Dr. Mohammed has already produced 3D printing filaments from different types of plastic rubbish – including milk bottles from the university’s office kitchen that were used to print basic plumbing parts. Plan Australia’s Manager for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Tom Rankin, believes that the potential applications of the technology – powered by free and abundant sunshine – are limitless. “This technology has exceeded the capacity of governments to manage it,” Rankin insisted. “In the streets of Honiara, there’s plastic literally everywhere. It clogs up the drains and flows out into the sea, killing marine life. Our aim is to turn this plastic into useful parts. If we can prove the concept and get the technology working well, it can be used across a raft of different fields, not just water and sanitation. Really, you’re only limited by your imagination about what you can print. The potential for this is amazing.” (Editor’s note: Honiara is the capital city of the Solomon Islands, administered as a provincial town on the northwestern coast of Guadalcanal. With a population of 84,520, the city is served by Honiara International Airport and the sea port of Point Cruz.)

Deakin University is using crowdfunding to help meet the costs of the printers’ first prototypes. So far, almost $20,000 (Australian currency) has been raised towards the $30,000 target, with support from the English Family Foundation. Plan International Australia has also contributed $10,000 to the project, with additional financial support from Deakin’s Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and School of Engineering.

Please watch and share Deakin’s fascinating crowdfunding video: (Editor’s note 2: You’ll love the wink and finger pointing at the end of this video….mate!)


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.