Markus Kayser’s Solar Sinter project takes the desert’s two most abundant resources, sunlight and sand and puts them to work manufacturing glass objects. Kayser loads the sand into a solar-powered 3-D printer where it serves as the raw material for glass. In a process that’s fascinating to watch, concentrated sunlight replaces the laser typically found in 3D printers, melting sand (instead of resin) in patterns to form an abstract sculpture or, more usefully, a bowl.
The Sahara, as well as other deserts around the world, is growing, in a process called desertification that ends up displacing people and crops. The situation has become drastic in a number of sub-Saharan countries. One suggestion from architect Magnus Larsson at the recent TED Global conference suggests constructing a massive wall, 3,700 miles long -- built from the sand itself. The trick would be to use bacterial labor to build it.