Estonian Researchers Create 3D Printable Peat Mixture for Cost-Effective Home Construction

Artist’s impression of five 3D printed concrete houses that will be built in Eindhoven. [Image: Houben/Van Mierlo Architects]

By using 3D printing to fabricate structures ranging from hotels and houses to bridges and bus stops, the global construction industry is able to lower costs and increase production speeds, along with making improved, eco-friendly structures with better designs and building materials.

The most commonly used materials for 3D printing structures are concrete and cement. However, there has been research on more unique materials like cellulose, a mixture of seeds and clay, and even materials like bone, skin, bark, and coral for living structures that can fix themselves. Now, scientists from the University of Tartu in Estonia and the Estonian University of Life Sciences have developed a novel new construction material that’s made primarily from peat.

Peat is a soft, heterogeneous mixture of mostly decomposed plant material that’s accumulated in water-saturated environments, like wetlands, in the absence of oxygen. The Estonian Peat Association says that peatlands cover roughly 3% of the Earth’s land area, and peat is also a good alternative to imported fossil energy. You can even mine it through a milling process, where 10 to 20 mm layers are cut loose from the deposit and left to dry; however, most fields need to be larger than 100 hectares for this to pay off.

Peatlands [Image: Estonian Peat Association]

22% of Estonia’s land area is covered in wetlands, which are ripe for growing peat. But, only the drier top part of the peat layer in these areas has been deemed suitable for use, while the unused portions are left to decay. These portions could still be used to help save money – many fractions, like waxes and humic substances, can be separated out from the peat, and you can even produce cellulose with the final residue.

That’s why Estonian researchers have created a self-supporting 3D printing construction material made up of peat and oil shale ash that could lower the costs for a two-story house 3D printed on-site by nearly tenfold.

“So far, no one has produced peat composite as a construction material because peat prevents many materials from hardening,” said Jüri Liiv, a doctor of chemistry at the University of Tartu. “In our project, we managed to overcome this issue.”

Liiv created an organic humate bedding powder out of peat, poultry manure, and wood ash a couple years ago, and while testing which pellets had suitable hardness, he started wondering if peat could be used to create a self-sustaining building material. The answer was yes, and the scientists got right to work.

Instead of using cement, Tartu researchers chose oil shale ash as their mixture’s binder. Because it becomes very basic when it comes into contact with water, this material is classified as a hazardous waste, with a pH of nearly 13. But, ash with such high pH levels is the best for construction materials, and once developed, it’s environmentally harmless.

About 7 million metric tons of oil shale ash are created each year in Estonia, but only 5% is reused – the rest causes major environmental pollution once it’s deposited in ash hills. During tests, scientists discovered a way to reduce the setting time for the peat down to one day from 30 – the material won’t harden if the pH of the pore solution is below nine, so they bind the potassium oxide and alkali metals found in oil shale ash to insoluble compounds to create a very high pH.

Oil shale ash reacts with humic acid while inside the peat, and absorbs carbon dioxide. Then, this binder material succumbs to chemical reactions and turns into regular concrete and limestone. Toomas Tenno, a professor of colloidal and environmental chemistry at Tartu, said that nanosized additives, like nanosilica or silicon smoke, are also added to the peat and oil shale ash to improve their properties.

After determining the humic and fulvic acid content in peat and conducting the XRD analysis of elements and minerals, the possible test mixtures were modeled and small test pieces 3D printed. Here, Toomas Tenno is showing these test pieces. [Image: Merilyn Merisalu]

“As the particles are very small, they dissolve well and distribute throughout the material evenly,” explained Tenno. “Silicon smoke improves the quality of this material significantly.”

It took the team a year to find the optimal mixture that’s strong, with high thermal conductivity. Once it’s hardened, the material is lightweight and durable, with low heat transfer, and is incombustible – even though peat can be used as fuel. While the material takes a day to achieve its initial hardness, it stays elastic for much longer, so you don’t need any fillers or insulation, and structures 3D printed with the peat material become airtight, and noise-blocking, without adding any type of wind protection.

Plenty of research and tests have been completed on this new material, and it’s ready to be manufactured for smaller elements. Additionally, Liiv said the scientists calculated that it would only cost about €5,000 to 3D print the shell of a 100-150 square meter house with this new material, due to the face that peat and oil shale are inexpensive; it would cost ten times more to construct the shell of a framed building of the same size. But while the cost savings alone may make you want to start milling peat for your own 3D printed home, the scientists say that the material isn’t quite ready for 3D printing just yet.

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[Sources: / University of Tartu]


Q&A 3D printing and robotic construction with Alexandre Dubor, IAAC

Alexandre Dubor is an architect and researcher combining new technologies in an attempt to improve how we build and live in our cities. He holds a Masters degree in Architecture & Engineering from EAVT & ENPC in France, and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architecture from the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC) in Spain, with […]

BattleBots team use Desktop Metal Studio System to build winning combat robot

The popular American television series, BattleBots, pits teams of skilled engineers from all over the world against one another in a dynamic robot combat tournament. Within this tournament, Boston-based competitors, Team SawBlaze, which consists of MIT engineering students and graduates, used metal 3D printing to efficiently create components for their battle-winning robot. With help from […]

Carbon Partners With National Dentex Labs

Carbon has just announced their intents for a partnership with National Dentex Labs (NDX) to provide them with their trademark dental solution technology. Both companies have already placed 2 Carbon M2 printers in NDX labs throughout 2018. This project will continue into a full-blown partnership all throughout 2019. “3D printing has become integral to the dental […]

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3D Systems completes first ever UNESCO restoration with roarsome 3D printed dragons

The Great Pagoda at Kew, on the outskirts of London in the UK, is now alive with seventy-two 3D printed dragons. In the original project for the Royal Botanic Gardens, 3D Systems has applied large-scale selective laser sintering (SLS) technology to help restore the 256 year-old building back to its former glory. Now, for the […]

3D Printer Raspberry Pi Stand & Case for OctoPrint Rig #3Dprinting

3D Printer Raspberry Pi stand & case for OctoPrint Rig

A neat post from Dave at After adding a TFT screen to his OctoPrint Pi setup, he designed and 3D printed a cradle mount for his LulzBot Mini printer.

The cradle is a remix from an Adafruit guide, while the shell are direct prints.  STL files for the remixed cradle are here.  He also integrated a power switch into the build.  The power switch holder is printed separately then glued using Goop (he says it’s the best glue ever!).

You can see the full details on

LLNL Analyse Metal Printing Using X-Rays

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are no strangers to 3D printing innovation. They’ve made some great breakthroughs in metal processing. Now, they’re looking into how complex mechanisms drive defects and limit part quality. Using X-rays, the teams are looking into how metal prints  form during laser powder bed fusion processes. The project is in collaboration with SLAC National Accelerator […]

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3D Printing News Briefs: July 10, 2018

We’re starting things off with a little business in today’s 3D Printing News Briefs, then moving on to news from the medical and construction industries, and finishing up with a few fun stories to make you smile. First up, Jeff Immelt, the former CEO of General Electric, has joined the board at Desktop Metal, and an industrial 3D printer distributor is offering a new cleaning unit by Omegasonics to its customers. Moving on, Insight Medical and Onkos Surgical are exploring the use of augmented reality in musculoskeletal oncology together, while Australian researchers introduced a new model for large-scale 3D facial recognition and a family has officially moved into the Nantes 3D printed house. Finally, a vegan confection startup is selling its popsicles, made with 3D printed molds, at select Starbucks locations in Los Angeles, and an EnvisionTEC 3D printer is being used to create characters for a stop motion series about superheroes.

Desktop Metal Board Welcomes Jeff Immelt

Jeffrey Immelt

Leading metal 3D printing company Desktop Metal, located near Boston, was founded three years ago with the goal of making metal 3D printing an essential tool for engineers and manufacturers. The company announced today that it has elected a new member to its Board of Directors – Jeffrey Immelt, the Chairman and CEO of GE until he retired from the company last year after 16 years. Immelt, who began his tenure only days before 9/11 and skillfully led GE through the crisis, has decades of experience, and is regarded as one of the most accomplished, innovative business technology leaders in the world. This makes him a valuable asset as Desktop Metal continues to grow.

“I am excited and honored to join the Desktop Metal board and work with this exceptional team of visionary entrepreneurs. Since it was founded nearly three years ago, Desktop Metal has become a trailblazer across the additive manufacturing landscape and I have a tremendous respect for the company’s ability to innovate,” said Immelt. “I look forward to sharing my experiences and contributing to the future direction and growth of this emerging metal 3D printing pioneer.”

Dr. Ken Washington, CTO and Vice President of Research and Advanced Engineering at the Ford Motor Company, was also recently appointed to the Desktop Metal board.

Industrial 3D Printer Distributor Offering Customers New Omegasonics Cleaning Unit


Plural Additive Manufacturing, which is the exclusive North American distributor for industrial 3D printers by 3ntr, is offering the new 815BTX cleaning unit from ultrasonic cleaning systems leader Omegasonics to customers who purchase its 3D printers. The versatile and cost-effective unit is the 3D printing market’s first dual tank/dual action bench top ultrasonic cleaning machine, and can help easily remove water soluble support material.

The left tank of the 815BTX uses a biodegradable cleaning detergent developed by Plural, called BioSolv, while the right tank uses hot water; the model’s dual action then ensures the safe and efficient cleaning of 3D printed parts. The 815BTX also has programmable alternating cycles for hands-off cleaning.

“3ntr manufacturers’ of 3D printers utilize a variety of support materials, some require chemicals for support removal, while others need only hot water. The 815BTX eliminates the need to have two separate cleaning machines or deal with the cost of frequent cleaning detergent changes to get the job done,” explained Frank Pedeflous, the President of Omegasonics. “It’s an all-in-one solution.”

Onkos Surgical and Insight Medical Exploring Augmented Reality in Musculoskeletal Oncology

California medical device company Insight Medical Systems has partnered with Onkos Surgical, Inc. on a pilot project to explore different applications and opportunities for using Insight Medical’s ARVIS (Augmented Reality Visualization and Information System) headset in musculoskeletal oncology, and possibly tumor surgery. Still under development, ARVIS uses its tracking and visualization capabilities to deliver efficient and precise surgical plan execution. The headset can project virtual models of a specific patient’s anatomy and implants into a surgeon’s field of view during a procedure, in order to show hidden anatomical structures and important measurements.

“Onkos Surgical is investing heavily in capabilities and technology to bring innovation to musculoskeletal oncology surgeons,” said Onkos CEO and Co-Founder Patrick Treacy. “Augmented reality technology has the potential of simplifying the complex and providing surgeons with input and feedback that may improve the precision of surgical planning and interoperative workflow. This technology fits well with our portfolio of Precision Oncology solutions.”

University of Western Australia Introduces New Model for Large-Scale 3D Facial Recognition

2D facial recognition is used often for applications in the IT, security, and surveillance industries, and relies on a computer model to know whether a person is legitimate or not. But this method has several issues, such as data being easily accessible online, which aren’t the case with more advanced 3D models. 3D models can address changes in facial expression, poses, scale, and texture, but the data can be hard to gather. Now, researchers from the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering at the University of Western Australia (UWA) have developed a first of its kind system that can complete large-scale 3D facial recognition. The researchers, who published a paper on their work in Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, analyzed 3.1 million 3D scans of over 100,000 people, and trained the innovative new 3D Facial Recognition model (FR3DNet) to learn the identities of a large dataset of ‘known’ persons, then match a test face to one.

Dr. Syed Zulqarnain Gilani, who created the 3D model, said, “With off-the-shelf 3D cameras becoming cheap and affordable, the future for pure 3D face recognition does not seem far away.

“Our research shows that recognition performance on 3D scans is better and more robust. Your 3D scan could be in any pose, wearing glasses or a face mask, and laughing or just smiling and the deep model can recognise you in an instant.

“We hope that this research will help improve security on devices that use facial recognition to grant access to networks and systems.”

Nantes 3D Printed House Welcomes First Tenants

In 2017, a collaborative team of researchers in France began an ambitious project where an industrial 3D printer and a patented concrete construction process called BatiPrint3D were used to build a five-room house in just days. This spring, after 54 hours of 3D printing and four months of contractors adding the roof, windows, and doors, the team finished the 95-square-meter, environmentally-friendly YHNOVA house in the district of Nantes Bottière. The house features wheelchair access and digital controls, and its curved walls are said to reduce the effects of humidity. But it still only cost around £176,000 to build – 20% cheaper than an identical house manufactured with traditional methods. Now, the NMH Housing Award Committee has allocated the house to a French family, and Nordine and Nouria Ramdani, along with their three children, are being hailed as the world’s first family to live in a 3D printed house.

Nordine said, “It’s a big honour to be a part of this project.

“We lived in a block of council flats from the 60s, so it’s a big change for us.

“It’s really something amazing to be able to live in a place where there is a garden, and to have a detached house.”

The THNOVA team now believes they can 3D print the same house in just 33 hours.

Dream Pops Selling 3D Printed Popsicles at LA Starbucks

Vegan confection startup Dream Pops, headquartered in Los Angeles, creates organic, gluten- and soy-free, and vegan popsicles that are tasty, healthy, and made using 3D printed molds. These premier dairy-free popsicles consist of fruit and superfoods pureed together and cooled inside the molds at an accelerated rate with liquid nitrogen. Now, the startup has announced that its sweet treats are now available at five select Starbucks locations in the city – Third Street Promenade, La Brea and 4th, San Vincente and Barrington, Melrose and Stanley, and Wilshire and Santa Monica. The vegan ice cream pops, each of which contain fewer than 100 calories and seven grams of sugar, comes in five distinct flavors: Berry Dreams, Coconut Latte, Mango Rosemary, Vanilla Matcha, and a Dream Flight, which includes all four flavors.

“Our aim is to become the Willy Wonka of plant-based confections starting with our first product the Dream Pop and extending into adjacent better-for-you desserts,” said Dream Pops Co-Founder and CEO David Greenfield.

Dream Pops’ popsicles will be available at these Starbucks locations until October 5th.

3D Printed Stop Motion Characters

3D printing has been used many times to help create characters and backdrops for ads and commercials, music videos, and even movies that use popular stop motion animation. If you’re a fan of the stop motion show Robot Chicken, then you might also recognize the name of the full-service production company that creates it. California-based Stoopid Buddy Stoodios specializes in developing and producing stop-motion, CG, and 2D animated content, and also creates an animated stop motion comedy series called SuperMansion. The studio fabricates most of the show’s characters with a Perfactory 3D printer from EnvisionTEC.

“By utilizing 3D printing, we’re able to tell a story about superheroes and love and conflict and action and adventure,” said Kei Chong, Digital Design Supervisor at Stoopid Buddy Stoodios.

To learn more, check out the video below.

3D Printing for Animation | Stoopid Buddy Stoodios from EnvisionTEC on Vimeo.

Discuss these stories and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below.

Formlabs Introduces New Castable Wax Resin for 3D Printing Jewelry

Formlabs has built its success not only on its high-quality 3D printers, the SLA Form 2 and the SLS Fuse 1, but its wide variety of materials, to which the company is constantly adding. It introduced two new resins at the beginning of the year, then followed up with a novel ceramic resin just a couple of months ago. Today, Formlabs has announced that its latest resin, Castable Wax Resin, is now shipping.

The jewelry market is a competitive one, and more and more jewelers are turning to 3D printing to cast their pieces rather than crafting them by hand or using older techniques to create their casting molds. 3D printing is much faster than any other jewelry manufacturing method, and while the market is full of attractive options for jewelry 3D printers and jewelry casting resins, Formlabs has always been one of the leaders in this particular market – partially because of the time-tested quality of its printers, and partially because of the many material options it presents.

Castable Wax Resin is a wax-filled material designed for direct investment casting, with zero ash content and clean burnout. It’s capable of 3D printing custom parts that are suitable for both try-ons and final pieces. Castable Wax Resin combines a smooth finish with increased part strength and precise print settings for sharp detail in the finished pieces. The material clearly displays fine features such as raised text, filigree wires and meshes, and detailed pavé with no visible layer lines.

“Before bringing 3D printing in-house, I’ve outsourced waxes to be printed, only to discover I needed thicker or thinner dimensions in the first design,” said Andrew Goldstein, Vice President of Zina Sterling Silver. “I’m super excited about the new Castable Wax Resin, the detail was outstanding in the initial prints and the material was so much easier to invest and cast.”

In terms of retail value, Asia Pacific is the largest global market for jewelry, and Formlabs worked closely with jewelry manufacturing partners in China, Japan and India to make sure that Castable Wax Resin could reliably print complex pavé pieces and filigree bracelets, which are especially popular in this region. Formlabs focused on the most challenging designs during product development to ensure that the resin could 3D print virtually anything.

“3D printing is an essential part of the jewelry making process for my jewelry line, LACE by Jenny Wu, because of the complex architectural forms that would be impossible to create by hand,” said designer Jenny Wu. “I was able to test out Castable Wax early with great results and I look forward to continuing to test out materials for future projects. I am excited to work with Formlabs to continue to push the boundaries of 3D printing materials for jewelry.”

Castable Wax Resin is 20% wax-filled and is suitable for a standard burnout schedule or a short eight-hour burnout schedule using strong investments. The resin does not require post-curing; just a quick isopropyl alcohol wash and the part is ready to go with no residual tackiness. The Standard Burnout Schedule is recommended for overnight cycles and for larger flasks and heavier geometries.

If you’re interested in Castable Wax Resin, you can download Formlabs’ Usage Guide, request a free sample part, or check out the company’s recommended casting houses to find a casting partner validated in casting Formlabs resins. 

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at or share your thoughts below.

[Images provided by Formlabs]