Combatting Ocean Plastic Pollution with 3D-Printed Living Seawall Tile

In the course of urbanization, large parts of the Sydney coast and the mangrove jungle have been destroyed. Volvo now uses 3D printing in order to re-attract marine wildlife that feeds of toxins and chemicals to improve the water quality.

Header Picture © Volvo Cars Australia.

Due to urbanization, the environment has been facing a variety of consequences: wildlife has been driven off their natural habitat, forests are being destroyed and the sea is polluted. While a part of mankind is actively engaged in changing all of this, another part forwards this development in one or the other way.

Thankfully, modern technology has the solution! Volvo recently installed its 3D-printed Living Seawall in the Sydney Harbour to promote marine biodiversity. During the last 200 years, about half of Sydney’s coast has been replaced by manmade seawalls resulting in an immense downsizing of the mangrove jungle, as well as an expulsion of sea and coastal life that resided and fed in and around the mangrove roots. That’s not only a negative development with regard to the marine biodiversity, but the animals and organisms that’s been driven away also had a purifying effect on the water. Many of them feed on toxins or chemicals and thus could help reducing the pollution caused by mankind.

A Simple but Genius Plan

Instead of completely tearing down the manmade seawalls, Volvo decided to use them for their project. The Living Seawall uses the concept of biomimicry. 50 hexagonal tiles with small corners and recesses mimic the interwoven structure of mangrove roots and thus offer the marine life a similar habitat to their natural one.

The Living Seawall is the result of a collaboration between Volvo, the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and Reef Design Lab. Nick Connor, Managing Director of Volvo Car Australia, says about the project:

“There’s a Swedish word, omtanke, that means ‘caring’ and ‘consideration.’ 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.”

The Realization

The idea is simple: What’s regularly shaped scarcely attracts sealife. That’s the main problem with the existing seawalls at the Sydney coast. The solution to this, in fact, is equally simple: Make it irregular! The tiles are made from marine-grade concrete that has been reinforced with recycled plastic fibres and the irregular shape provides enough hiding places for a variety of marine animals, such as oysters and molluscs. The ideal device for the implementation of such a project, especially when it’s planned to be realized in large volumes, is, of course, a 3D printer.

You’re curious as to what exactly this Living Seawall looks like? Check out this video for some impressions:


A Long-Lasting Solution?

The future will tell if the Living Seawall is a persistent solution to re-attract marine wildlife to the coast of Sydney. Researchers are planning to monitor the performance of the tiles for the next twenty years to see, whether it delivers what it promises. But one thing is definitely clear: 3D printing continues to revolutionize one sector after another offering mankind solutions and new possibilities.

What’s your opinion on Volvo’s innovation? Will the Living Seawall re-attract wildlife or is it a rather unpromising endeavor?

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