Everyone always asks how can 3D printed concrete be better for the environment? Here is a potential solution! Traditional 3D printed concrete (can I say that yet?) uses a very high portion of cement in the mix compared to regular concrete that would get poured in a formwork. Omlab asks the question, How can we get all the benefits of 3d printed construction (Labor reduction, form freedom, speed) without harming the environment?
This startup in the Netherlands is changing the way concrete impacts the environment. By developing a new mixture that has similar structural properties to concrete without the harmful environmental side effects, Omlab wants to change the long term implications of construction for good.
I got to meet with founders Margreet Van Uffelen & Huub Looze to get a tour around their facility seeing their printer and past prints. They shared the origin story of Omlab along with their vision for where the company will go in the future. Right now they are very much in the research and startup phase perfecting their mix, print methods, and curing strategy.
The material is 90% calcium removed from drinking water. A small portion is cellulose taken from sanitized toilet paper from the sewage processing plant and they also use a bio polymer binder kamera rich in proteins.
This mixture is completely biodegradable and actually promotes many types of life because of the high calcium concentration. One may ask how can a biodegradable material be used in construction outdoors? The solution is a weatherproof coating. The best part is once it cures it resembles concrete very closely not only in looks but also strength. Omlab is now undergoing strength testing to evaluate the real world potential of this product.
The biggest upcoming project for Omlab is a public toilet 3d printed with their material that they have already developed a 1:10 scale model of. If the project is successful it will be the first 3d printed building made in a sustainable environmentally friendly way. That is a big achievement and a nice step in the right direction, the next step will need to be scaling it up in a cost effective way. Regardless of the current costs, it is so important that people keep experimenting with the materials used in construction particularly for construction automation. Material science is more advanced than it had ever been in the past.
Materials at the moment has the potential to be the holy grail of 3d printing because if someone developed a printable concrete at the same cost as regular concrete, all the sudden all these companies with construction 3d printers would be able to complete their construction projects at a lower price than traditional construction. There are many other ways the cost benefits can be achieved but it seems to me a materials development would be the fastest way.
Omlab is quite open and they are great people, you should reach out to them and learn more about their materials. 3D printed construction companies should work with Omlab to figure out what it takes to extrude their solution from gantry and robotic arm systems.