Could Termites Make 3D Printed Buildings More Energy Efficient?

Published on May 31, 2023 by Madeleine P.
Termites 3D printing

Could it be possible to build more energy-efficient 3D-printed buildings using what we know about termites? Possibly, if researchers at Lund University in Sweden and Nottingham Trent University in England are to be believed. While studying the termite mounds of Macrotermes michaelseni (a species native to Namibia), they discovered that they are able to create dwellings with a comfortable indoor climate without excessive energy consumption. By constructing an intricate network of lattice-like tunnels between 3 and 5 mm wide, the termites intercept the wind around the termite mound, powering ventilation and controlling the indoor environment.

The researchers discovered that this wind also carries away excess moisture and respiratory gases. Dr. David Andréen, a senior lecturer at the bioDigital Matter research group of Lund University and the study’s first author, explained, “Here we show that the ‘egress complex’, an intricate network of interconnected tunnels found in termite mounds, can be used to promote flows of air, heat, and moisture in novel ways in human architecture.” Thanks to their research, the project’s leaders are now able to imagine how it would be possible to reproduce these structures with man-made buildings.

construction bâtiments

Termite-made mound in Namibia (photo credits: D. Andréen)

Using Termites to Make Better 3D Printed Buildings

Though it may seem like it came from a sci-fi TV show, it certainly is possible and the key to this may be emerging technologies. Notably, powder-based 3D printing technologies which could create these complex shapes. According to the researchers, this natural ventilation mechanism could revolutionize the construction industry. It could create more comfortable, energy-efficient homes. This, in turn, would reduce CO2 emissions, caused in particular by excessive use of air conditioning in the summer months. By integrating 3D printing technology and intelligent systems, these structures can also be further optimized to reduce the environmental impact of buildings.

“Construction-scale 3D printing will only be possible when we can design structures as complex as in nature,” said Dr. Rupert Soar, Associate Professor in the School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment at Nottingham Trent University. “The egress complex is an example of a complicated structure that could solve multiple problems simultaneously: keeping comfort inside our homes, while regulating the flow of respiratory gasses and moisture through the building envelope.” Soar concludes: “We are on the brink of the transition towards nature-like construction: for the first time, it may be possible to design a true living, breathing building.” You can learn more about the study HERE.

What do you think of taking inspiration for termites to 3D print more energy efficient buildings? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Updated
Every wednesday, receive a recap of the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox.