Penn State's first Schlumberger fellow aims to 3D-print a sustainable future

9/8/2021

By Ashley J. WennersHerron

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Eden Binega was browsing doctoral programs in additive manufacturing when she spotted a story on NASA’s 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Challenge, in which Penn State came second with a 3D-printed concrete dome-like structure.

“I saw that and thought, ‘Yes, I need to work with the people doing that,’” said Binega, who hails from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and began her doctoral studies in architectural engineering at Penn State this fall. “Two and a half years ago, I didn’t know what 3D printing was. Now that I do, I want to use it to contribute to sustainable infrastructure in the built environment.”

Binega is Penn State’s first fellow from the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future Program, which funds women from developing countries to pursue their doctorates or post-doctoral research in science, technology, engineering or math. She is one of 31 new fellows funded this academic year. Fellows must have a record of teaching in their home countries and intend to return to apply what they have learned and contribute to their countries’ socio-economic development.

Binega completed a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering specifically in additive manufacturing for infrastructure industry at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in February 2021, before taking a lecturer position at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia. Prior to moving to State College, Binega taught engineering mechanics or statics, with a focus on civil and structural engineering.

“I learned about 3D printing while working on my master’s degree in Korea,” Binega said. “I found it amazing. Besides its potential for the environment, 3D printing can also help make the building industry safer because it lessens the need for humans in dangerous construction situations.”

After reading about Penn State’s efforts in 3D printing, specifically with concrete, Binega reached out to Ali Memari, Bernard and Henrietta Hankin Chair in Residential Building Construction, professor of architectural engineering and civil and environmental engineering and director of the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center, in November of 2020.

“I’ve been emailing Professor Memari for eight months, asking about his research and finding where we can synergize our interests,” Binega said. “He has helped me a lot, and he always replies to my emails quickly! I’m thankful to the Schlumberger Foundation, Penn State, the Department of Architectural Engineering, and I’m very excited to join.”

Memari echoed Binega’s enthusiasm.

“Part of my job is to recruit the best and brightest students,” Memari said, noting that recruitment efforts are eagerly supported and encouraged by his home departments of architectural engineering and civil and environmental engineering. “Eden is one of those students. She is a very smart, highly accomplished young woman who is already actively engaged and has the unique talent to make contributions in green design and construction.”

Memari’s research program includes assessing and developing construction materials, building systems and new methods of making the built environment, which includes the community in which buildings are constructed, more energy efficient while also improving human health and safety.

“We want to construct residential buildings — homes — on the basis of engineering principles: safe, healthy, energy efficient,” Memari said. “With that in mind, we are trying to identify more environmentally friendly materials and approaches.”

One example is 3D printing buildings with concrete — the same approach that captured Binega’s attention and first introduced her to the architectural engineering program at Penn State. While 3D-printed concrete homes can be built relatively quickly to structurally sound specifications, the conventional concrete is energy intense. According to Memari, the process to make concrete requires a lot of fuel and creates an abundance of carbon dioxide.

“We’re investigating renewable, bio-based materials that might produce a similar product without the environmental harm,” Memari said. “I’m particularly interested in modernizing natural material that has been used for thousands of years for building, such as clay or adobe.”

This is the area in which Binega will begin her work.

“Maybe we can use different materials to make a truly green concrete that can work with a 3D printer,” Binega said, noting she looks forward to testing various materials to see the environmental and engineering benefits of different combinations. “Eventually, I want to implement this research in the real world, connecting it with industry building methods. When I finish my doctorate, I want to make sure I’m participating in the improvement of the construction industry in a way that’s going to result in sustainable 3D-printed houses and buildings.”

The Schlumberger Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports science and technology education. Recognizing the link between science, technology, and socio-economic development, as well as the key role of education in realizing individual potential, the Schlumberger Foundation flagship program is Faculty for the Future. Since its launch in 2004, the program has funded 770 women from 84 countries pursuing doctorates or conducting postdoctoral research.

 

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A woman in a red dress stands in front of greenery

Eden Binega. IMAGE: PROVIDED BY EDEN BINEGA