3D printing technology is being deployed at scale to build affordable and low-carbon housing and schools in Africa, in a bid to tackle the region’s chronic infrastructure shortage.
14Trees is a joint venture between building materials specialist LafargeHolcim and CDC Group, the UK’s publicly owned impact investor, which is using 3D printing technology to create affordable and sustainable buildings initially in Malawi, and in the future will extend the project into Kenya and Zimbabwe.
“I am very excited about the work of our joint venture 14Trees, innovating in 3D printing technology to accelerate affordable and sustainable building, from homes to schools,” said Miljan Gutovic, Region Head Middle East Africa and LafargeHolcim Executive Committee member.
“This is a great example of our commitment to build for people and the planet. Starting in Malawi, we will deploy this technology across the broader region with projects already in the pipeline in Kenya and Zimbabwe.”
The 14Trees project
The 3D printing technology deployed by 14Trees, which uses a proprietary ink from LafargeHolcim, is being pioneered in schools for the first time and is expected to significantly reduce the time and cost of building homes and schools in Malawi. According to UNICEF, there is a current shortage of some 36,000 classrooms in the country which would take 70 years to build using conventional methods. 14Trees believes this could be achieved within a decade using 3D printing.
The first prototype house was built in Lilongwe, of which the walls were printed in just 12 hours. Meanwhile in Salima, the walls of 14Trees’ first school were printed in 18 hours. Using traditional methods, these buildings would have taken several days to complete.
In addition to speeding up the construction process of new buildings, 14Trees’ 3D printing technology also reduces the carbon footprint for building new homes by up to 70 percent through optimized material use. In addition, the joint venture aims to create skilled local jobs with the hiring of local 3D machine operators, material specialists, builders, carpenters, roofers, and painters.
“The rollout of 14Trees’ world-class, cutting-edge technology is going to have a tremendous developmental impact on Malawi and the wider region,” said Tenbite Ermias, Managing Director, Africa, at CDC. “It is a wonderful example of how we are investing in businesses that can support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”
3D printing buildings
The speed, sustainability and cost benefits of 3D printing buildings are being increasingly leveraged within the construction sector to produce affordable housing and infrastructure.
One of the firms at the forefront of printing sustainable buildings is Italian 3D printer manufacturer WASP, which has taken part in a number of projects in this area. In 2018, the Crane WASP 3D printer was used to produce a small building for the technological village of Shamballa, named Gaia, and a year later embarked upon printing a housing model called TECLA, which was based on a circular manufacturing process utilizing reusable and recyclable materials sourced from the local terrain.
Elsewhere, Dutch concrete 3D printing firm CyBe Construction was chosen for the 3D printing of houses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 3D construction startup Mighty Buildings raised $30 million to launch as a fully-fledged “production-as-a-service” business, and US concrete specialists QUIKRETE and Contour Crafting Corporation collaborated to construct residential, commercial, industrial, and government buildings throughout the US.
Most recently, German construction firm PERI Group commenced work on the construction of a “world first” three-floor printed commercial apartment building on-site in Wallenhausen, using Danish manufacturing firm COBOD’s 3D printing technology. The announcement came just months after PERI announced it was in the process of building Germany’s first “market-ready” 3D printed residential building.
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Featured image shows 14Trees is using 3D printing to address Africa’s housing and infrastructure shortage. Image via 14Trees.