Sustainable and eco-friendly construction is the objective of clay bricks produced through 3D printing.

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3D printing has been making great strides in the construction industry, with projects popping up all over the world. These structures offer numerous advantages over traditional construction, including cost-efficiency, shorter build times, and the use of local or recyclable materials. At the American University in Cairo (AUC), researchers have been focusing on developing their own additive manufacturing-based construction system, with an emphasis on local materials, robotic fabrication, and carbon-zero manufacturing. Their success with 3D printed clay bricks has been the first of its kind in North Africa and represents a significant step forward in the region.

The AUC researchers are one of only three labs currently experimenting with clay bricks in Africa and the Middle East. Their method combines metal and clay materials, utilizing robotic arms to build complex structures at a fraction of the energy, time, and emissions typically associated with traditional construction practices. Instead of using concrete mixtures, which are common in additive manufacturing (AM) projects, the team has chosen a specialized red fire clay. This clay is more durable and heat-resistant than normal clay, thanks to its composition of minerals like feldspar, quartz, and kaolin.

The use of clay is a crucial part of the AUC team’s vision of sustainability. In Egypt, clay has been used for traditional clay bricks for centuries, making it a readily available and abundant material. By utilizing local resources, the AUC team believes that their technology can stimulate the local economy, while also providing affordable housing options.

According to Professor Hanadi Salem, chair of the AUC Department of Mechanical Engineering, AM will integrate with traditional manufacturing, complementing it rather than replacing it. The freedom to design and innovate with AM can have a positive impact on society, reducing the drain on foreign currency and giving companies an advantage in the product development cycle.

The red fire clay used by the AUC team is visually appealing and can be shaped into curves and complex geometric patterns. This, combined with the efficiency of 3D printing, makes it an ideal material for green construction. The process eliminates the need for manual molding and firing, resulting in less waste. Unused or scrap materials can be easily recycled and reused, and the production process allows for greater control over the quality, strength, and durability of the bricks.

The AUC team’s clay bricks and other pieces were showcased at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27). This opportunity allowed them to highlight the unique design and potential of this construction material. For more information about the AUC and their projects, you can visit their website.

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