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'World's largest' 3D printer is building shelters out of clay and straw

Last September we reported on the world’s largest 3D printer, “Big Delta.” The 20-foot-wide, 40-foot-tall structure was designed by Italy’s WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project) to print low-cost houses out of dirt, clay, and straw. Though the houses themselves would be far from luxurious, they could provide protection from the elements for many displaced people in need.

The ambitious project struck a chord with us for its social awareness and sustainable agenda, but we wondered if ambition got the best of its founders.

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Well, we’re happy to see that WASP has constructed its first hive and Big Delta has nearly churned out a completed shelter for an astonishingly cheap $55, according to New Atlas.

To develop the shelter, Big Delta piles 135 consecutive layers of clay, straw, and lime on top of each other. Each layer takes roughly 20 minutes to complete and weighs about 660 pounds. WASP estimates that the 70 cubic-feet of water, the 200 kWh of electricity, and the gasoline and materials used will amount to $55 by the time the shelter is finished. While this does’t include Big Delta’s construction costs nor the cost of labor, it’s inexpensive nonetheless.

With poverty a critical issue around the world, the need for adequate shelters remains strong. By 2030, the average daily requirement for new housing is expected to reach 100,000, according to the United Nations. In that same period, some 4 billion people with annual incomes below $3,000 will need sufficient shelter, WASP said in a press release. Hopefully Big Delta will soon be able to offer local solutions to these global problems.

WASP’s project isn’t the only one involving the 3D-printing of large-scale shelters. The United Arab Emirates National Innovation Committee laid out plans to 3D-print a luxurious office building and everything inside it last year. By May, New Atlas reported the project was complete.