3D printed beehives

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Main > Food and Agriculture > Beekeeping


Proposal

To make beehives and other beekeeping equipment from plastic by digital fabrication rather than carving them from wood.

Rationale

A billion people are undernourished. Most are subsistence farmers with little money. Finding very cheap ways to enable people to grow more food is therefore the best way to combat malnutrition.

Bees increase the productivity of flowering plants by about one-third. They also produce commercially-valuable substances, like wax, and honey, a very energy-rich food. It would be great to spread beekeeping to malnourished subsistence farmers. What are the costs of doing this?

Bóthar are quoting €50 per hive. Oxfam quote $200, but this includes training. Commercially-available hives from thorne.co.uk cost £100-200GBP. I suspect that the main component of the cost is the labour needed to craft the hives. (I'll inquire with charities promoting bees to confirm this.)

Enter digital fabrication - I believe that if we print hives with a RepRap we can reduce the time and labour by a factor of 100. The only cost is materials (polylactic acid), which should be at most a few bucks per hive.

Extending the idea, supplying RepRaps to small farmers would allow them to effortlessly make their own beekeeping equipment and also earn extra income by selling beehives.

Potential disadvantages

There is a small chance that bees won't like the plastics used. This is an open question that can only be settled by experiment. They tolerate styrofoam hives without complaint, so I don't anticipate a problem.

Bees will often cover areas in 'propolis', so the specific material the hive is made of is not that crucial to the bee, except for its insulating characteristics and its capacity for absorption of humidity to keep the climate inside of the beehive acceptable, especially in winter. A good design of the hive could avoid heat-loss through drafts while ensuring sufficient ventilation of humid air.

To do

  1. Draw up CAD files based on these (public domain) designs: Langstroth hive design or National hive design.
  2. Try one out on some real live bees.

I have a 3d printer and am a beekeeper, some help with the models i will be glad to try this.