UW students win $100,000 for 3-D printer - The 3-D printer used by the Washington Open Object Fabricators repurposes recycled milk cartons. The club used the printer in the 3D4D Challenge last week and took home the $100,000 prize. Photo by Benjamin Hagood
After taking second place in the Seafair Milk Carton Derby using a printed boat made entirely of milk-jug plastic, the Washington Open Object Fabricators (WOOF) proved that 3-D printing was a budding technology. Now the group has proven its ability on the international level, winning first prize at the 3D4D Challenge in London last week.
The 50-member student group beat out six other finalists for the $100,000 top prize for their plan to use giant 3-D printers to turn create lightweight composting toilets and rainwater catchment equipment from waste plastic.
WOOF President Matt Rogge was introduced to the concept of composting latrines while serving in the Peace Corps. He said if they’re used correctly, they can turn what would otherwise be sewage into something valuable.
“Composting latrines espouse the same perspective that we are taking with our concept of 3-D printing from plastic in the waste stream: Don’t view it as waste,” Rogge said. “Plastic or ‘humanure’ are resources that can be used to improve quality of life rather than degrade it.”
The group used their Milk Carton Derby entry as a test run for their printer, a repurposed plasma cutter they’ve dubbed “Big Red.” This proved that they could repurpose recycled plastic in other ways, but it wasn’t without its share of challenges along the way.
“One of the biggest challenges was learning how to print with HDPE (milk jug plastic),” Rogge said. “It shrinks 2 percent as it cools from its melt temperature. This shrinkage can cause severe warp in the printed object. Keeping the boat from tearing itself off of the print bed required quite a bit of creative problem-solving.”
Now, the group plans to use the prize money to form a nonprofit based on the technology, partnering with the nonprofit Water for Humans in Oaxaca, Mexico, to test their idea.
“We really want to see that proposal implemented, as we feel it can do a lot of good, regardless of whether we had won the money or not,” said Bethany Weeks, director of operations for WOOF. “However, it’s just startup money and we need to figure out the best way to implement it so that our proposed plan can quickly become stable and sustainable. So we need to do some serious thinking first.”
Faculty adviser and mechanical-engineering professor Duane Sorti has high hopes for the students moving forward.
“I am very confident that they have very bright futures, and I honestly cannot wait to see what they do next,” Sorti said.
Reach reporter Joe Veyera at email@example.com. Twitter: @JosephVeyera
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