3D printed ceramic cooling tower takes inspiration from termite mounds

They say everything in nature has a purpose for existing, even if their existence is a nuisance to us humans. Scavengers, for example, are nature’s janitors and recyclers, putting dead things to good use. Even termites, whose presence is often a death sentence for homes and structures, are important to the ecosystem, and they can apparently serve as artful inspiration as well. Maybe not the termites themselves but the complex tunnels they create inside their mounds. These patterns are actually meant to facilitate airflow, which makes it the perfect reference for a man-made cooling solution that brings natural design and technology together to create a more sustainable solution to hot temperatures.

Designer: Rameshwari Jonnalagedda

There has been some interest in alternative cooling solutions, especially those that don’t consume too much electricity or none at all. Traditional techniques, particularly evaporative cooling that makes use of clay pots or pipes, have gained a lot of traction, especially because they can become decorative pieces inside modern homes. That said, the old methods don’t exactly scale well to today’s climate, room sizes, and needs, so designers have to think a bit outside the box to come up with a better solution to fit modern needs.

TerraMound looks to termites for one part of the solution, particularly how their shapes exemplify high surface-area-to-volume ratios, meaning how much surface area there is in a compact space. Surface area is one of two critical elements in an evaporative cooler, and that is made possible by utilizing complex geometric patterns that look like artistic versions of termite mounds. Such a design would be impossible to do en masse by hand, which is where 3D printing comes in and where the project’s uniqueness really shines.

The other critical element to this type of cooling solution is porosity, which is why clay is the preferred material for this kind of cooler. Clay is also not a typical 3D printing material, which is what makes this ceramic cooler design even more special. This method can eventually be extended to large-scale 3D printing technologies, allowing the quick and easy production of facade panels, walls, and other structures that not only look beautiful but can also help improve airflow in buildings.

As a cooler, TerraMound isn’t completely passive, as it has a fan at the bottom to draw air upwards. A planter sits on top as a source of water that trickles down the desktop cooling tower, utilizing the absorbent properties of the terracotta clay to help the evaporation process. It also acts as a distinctive and beautiful piece of table decoration, one that you wouldn’t have guessed was inspired by something we humans consider to be pests.

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