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Bacher, Matthias, 2013. 3D-printing of undisturbed soil imaged by X-ray. Second cycle, A2E. Uppsala: SLU, Dept. of Soil and Environment



An artificial soil pore network can help to analyse preferential macropore flow which is important for
pollutant leaching and degradation in the environment. Reproducing soil macro pores in an artificial,
durable material offers the opportunity of repeating experiments in contrast to real soil pore
networks. Therefore potential and limitations of reproducing an undisturbed soil sample by 3Dprinting
was evaluated.

An undisturbed soil column of Ultuna clay soil with a diameter of 7 cm was scanned by micro X-ray
computer tomography at a resolution of 51 micron. A subsample cube of 2.03 cm length with
connected macropores was cut out from this 3D-image and printed in five different materials by a
3D-printing service provider. The materials were ABS, Alumide, High Detail Resin, Polyamide and
Prime Grey. The five print-outs of the subsample have been tested on their hydraulic conductivity by
using the falling head method and the hydrophobicity has been tested by an adapted sessile drop

To determine the morphology of the print-outs and compare it to the real soil the print-outs have
been scanned by X-ray. The images were analysed with the open source program ImageJ. The five
3D-image print-outs copied from the subsample of the soil column were compared by means of their macropore network connectivity, porosity, surface volume, tortuosity and skeleton. The comparison of pore morphology between the real soil and the print-outs showed that Polyamide was the most consistent print-out while Alumide was the least detailed. Only the largest macropore was represented throughout all materials. Bottlenecks or dead ends in the printed pores were caused by lacking detail or residual support-material from the printing process. The physical analysis confirmed all materials as non-dissoluble and the sessile drop method shows angles between 54 and 75
degrees, rather wettable to slightly hydrophobic. Prime grey, Polyamide and ABS had a connected macropore throughout the sample and a hydraulic conductivity decreasing in this order, while two materials were not conducting. If the blocking of the pore was caused by faulty printing or printingaid material couldn’t be determined. Comparing the macropores in the soil and in the 3D-print-outs, the level of detail in the print-outs was not correlated with the infiltration velocity, residual printing material was suspected to block the pores in some materials. The thesis showed that the each material has its limitations but Prime Grey and Polyamide are prospective materials, although those and ABS need further research for residual material blocking pores. Independent from the 3Dprinting material, the fine pore matrix cannot be printed. Therefore soil with connected macropores
is required.

Main title:3D-printing of undisturbed soil imaged by X-ray
Authors:Bacher, Matthias
Supervisor:Koestel, John and Schwen, Andreas
Examiner:Larsbo, Mats
Series:Examensarbeten / Institutionen för mark och miljö, SLU
Volume/Sequential designation:2013:23
Year of Publication:2013
Level and depth descriptor:Second cycle, A2E
Student's programme affiliation:NM025 EnvEuro - European Master in Environmental Science 120 HEC
Supervising department:(NL, NJ) > Dept. of Soil and Environment
Keywords:soil, macropores, 3D-printing, X-ray
Permanent URL:
Subject. Use of subject categories until 2023-04-30.:Soil chemistry and physics
Deposited On:29 Nov 2013 11:05
Metadata Last Modified:29 Nov 2013 11:05

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