Solar powered 3D printer – make anything, anywhere

3D printers are pretty cool, but despite the boundless opportunities that they provide they’re essentially a toy for the well off…

Professor Joshua Pearce at the Michigan Technological University is endeavouring to change that, he wants to enable 3D printers to be used where they’re really needed – in rural communities with little access to electricity but where technology can still play a beneficial role.

He has created a system which combines solar cell technology with the RepRap 3D printer, if you don’t know RepRap is a cheap 3D printer which has the ability to print itself. RepRap also has one other huge strength – it’s open source (meaning that anyone can make it at home with a little tech know-how and the right equipment, the creator can use it, change it, and even sell it without copyright issues). There’s little in the way of money for the inverter of open-source technologies  but it will be a great benefit to people cut off from the grid.

Solar printer

The system can be put together for around £800.00 ($1300.00), 3D printers can print a wide range of things including cooking equipment, medical supplies, machine parts and tools that could be of use in rural areas as well as in disaster relief situations. All this and it fits in a suitcase to be the ultimate mobile factory.

As Pearce puts it “You could put your clothes in a backpack and take this printer in your suitcase. It’s a mobile manufacturing facility that can make whatever you and the community need or value. It has nearly unlimited flexibility.”.


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Written by TreeThinker

Passionate about the Earth and those who inhabit it. An engineer (BEng (Hons), MSEE) from Oxfordshire, UK, specialising in designing for a sustainable future. A member of the Society of Environmental Engineers and a keen environmental advocate who volunteers for several grass roots sustainability groups. I work full time as a project manager for a renewable energy company based in Oxford and also run ‘TreeThinker’ (; converting previous pasture land into a rich permaculture farm growing produce for sale locally. I deliver workshops on sustainable living, including building renewable energy technologies, as well as workshops for schools discussing 'Energy as a resource' amongst other topics. I am qualified in ‘Information, advice and guidance’ (level 4) and experienced at teaching practical skills. I'm also a keen cyclist and have a love of wordplay - writing a blog on etymology (

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