The desert sands of the Sahara are famous for many things, including hostile living conditions, intolerably arid weather, unrelenting heat, and brutal wind and sand storms. The largest hot desert on Earth, it is home (and burial ground) for many particularly plucky species of plant and beast. It is not a place one associates with fertile territory for life or art.
That is, until designer and visual artist Markus Kayser saw the unique potential of the desert, with its plentiful sun and sand, as a staging ground for a cutting-edge body of work. His art project entitled Solar Sinter (2011) exploits the heretofore untapped potential of glaring sunlight and limitless sand dunes, focusing the rays to create beams of intense heat that can be targeted precisely using computer controlled motors.
The German-born artist holds degrees in product design from London Metropolitan University and the Royal College of Art. In his final year of earning his master’s degree from the latter institution, his focus on production took precedence over the resulting product, and a solar-powered, 3-D printing, glass making machine was born. He calls it the Solar Sinter.
The notion behind Kayser’s invention seems simple. Writes Kayser, “Silicia sand when heated to melting point and allowed to cool solidifies as glass. This process of converting a powdery substance via a heating process into a solid form is known as sintering.” This is the process used in typical 3-D printing, but the raw material used is resin, and a traditionally non-renewable energy source is usually employed. The Solar Sinter begins with a sun-facing Fresnel lens, with the focal point going straight through the machine and onto the sand plate, which can build up three-dimensional images by successive layers. The computer controlled motor moves the sand plate under the focused beam of sun in the direction necessary to create the image that is being read by the (also solar powered) computer.
The heat generated from the sun’s rays when they’re focused through Fresnel lens quickly achieves temperatures between 2500 and 2912 degrees Fahrenheit (1400 to 1600 degrees Celsius), easily melting the sand and building up the object layer by layer through melting and rapid cooling. The resulting object is colored by the varying composite materials in the raw sand.
For the future of glass in art, architecture, and mass production, Kayser told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet in an email exchange that he sees huge potential in using his device. There are already experiments in 3-D printing for architectural purposes, and by introducing renewable energy and new materials to the game, the scope of potential widens exponentially.
Watch an amazing video of the project created by the artist: