The Swedish car manufacturer Volvo has developed the “Living Seawall” in collaboration with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Reef Design Lab. This vibrant shoreline is made up of 50 3D printed tiles that mimic the root structure of indigenous mangrove trees. Built in Sydney Harbor, this wall is designed to promote marine biodiversity.
According to research, one garbage truck of plastic enters the world’s oceans every minute. More than half of Sydney’s shoreline is artificial since rich, vibrant habitats have been replaced with seawalls and degraded by plastic pollution.
Over the past two hundred years, Sydney’s coast has been steadily but surely transformed into an artificial dam. For this process of urbanization, large parts of the mangrove jungle were cut down. As a result, not only did the landscape of the coast change, but also marine and coastal animals disappeared. In fact, the impact is catastrophic, as marine and coastal life has a direct impact on water quality. Many of the organisms feed on toxins, chemicals and particles that are created by human pollution.
The 3D printed tiles were installed on an existing wall structure in Sydney Harbor, and researchers will monitor the results over the next 20 years as the Living Seawall aims to improve biodiversity and water quality. The structure of the tiles reflects the structure of the mangrove tree very closely, which should easily attract organisms.
Additive manufacturing is able to develop designs based on biomimicry. In other words, designs based on structures in nature. Such structures would be nearly impossible to produce using traditional manufacturing techniques such as subtractive manufacturing. The freedom of form introduced by 3D printing technology is innovative and opens many opportunities for environmental causes.
The layers of the FDM 3D printing process are still visible on the tiles. This is not a bad thing, as the researchers compare it to the surface of oysters and expect such filter organisms to settle in the tiles. In addition, the 3D printing of these tiles was cost-effective and environmentally friendly. The mayor of North Sydney said, “These 50 tiles were unbelievably inexpensive to produce and install, but could have a major impact on the health of the Sydney coast and eventually the oceans.”
To combat plastic pollution, the Volvo Ocean Race has been organizing beach cleanups around the world for years. Following this initiative, they decided to work with the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Reef Design Lab to create the Living Seawall.
“There’s a Swedish word, omtanke, that means ‘caring’ and ‘consideration,’ ” says Nick Connor, Managing Director of Volvo Car Australia. “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.”