Archireef: 3D-printed Clay Reef Tiles

By Vriko Yu 19 January, 2023

Home to more hard coral species than the Caribbean, Hong Kong reefs need protecting. We sit down with CEO & Co-founder of Archireef, Yu, to hear how their 3D printed clay tiles save reefs with a 95% survivorship rate

Since 1950’s lost ~half of the world’s coral reefs; Archireef is focused on marine ecosystem restoration by using pioneering 3D-printed reef tiles made from terracotta clay
The reef tiles provide a stronger foundation for corals to support their growth & survival, which is becoming more challenging under climate change; 95% survivorship
Deploying tiles in HK & UAE but looking to expand to SEA; with continued govt push & increased public education, HK could be a global leader in nature preservation
Vriko Yu
Author: Vriko Yu
In the face of rapid climate change, the likes of coral reefs are being threatened at an unprecedented rate - Vriko made it her mission to help restore life underwater. During her PhD, she co-invented the world's first 3D-printed clay reef tiles, a product that has proven to be 4 times more effective in securing coral growth and longevity than traditional methods. Vriko is the co-founder and CEO of Archireef, an award-winning green tech startup based in Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi that focuses on restoring marine ecosystems like coral reefs with the power of architecture, science and 3D-printing.
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Archireef aims to restore degraded marine ecosystems and mobilise blue carbon to achieve carbon neutrality by utilizing the power of 3D-printing and their proprietary algorithms to print reef tiles made from natural materials. They designed the world’s first artificial reef structure 3D-printed in terracotta. Their reef tiles are ocean-friendly and integrate biomimicry to enhance coral survivorship and growth. Currently, Archireef’s 3D printed clay reef tiles are 4 times more effective in keeping corals alive than conventional restoration methods. The Archireef team also work with government entities and businesses to incorporate marine ecosystem restoration into their ESG and sustainability agenda.

To learn more about their tiles, their projects and what they have been doing in Hong Kong, we sat with Vriko Yu, co-founder and CEO of Archireef.

CWR: Vriko, thank you for sitting down with us. We saw Archireef’s 3D printed terracotta reefs at the RE-THINK conference and had to find out more because they looked so fascinating. Could you share a bit about what Archireef does, why you set it up and your vision?

Vriko Yu (VY): Archireef is focused on marine ecosystem restoration and our pioneering product is a 3D-printed reef tile made from terracotta clay. The reef tiles are designed to provide a stronger foundation for corals, in order to support their growth and their long-term survival.

Naturally, corals do not have any roots and yet they need a stable foundation (e.g. from rocks) to settle and thrive in their environment – which is becoming more and more challenging under climate change. That’s where we provide a helping hand.

The reef tiles provide a stronger foundation for corals, in order to support their growth & long-term survival, which is becoming more challenging under climate change

CWR: Since the 1950’s we’ve lost about half of the world’s coral reefs. How are accelerating climate threats impacting our oceans and coral reefs, and have you personally noticed any impacts in Hong Kong waters?

VY: Climate change is only one aspect when it comes to the threat that corals are facing. In fact, looking at Hong Kong for instance, other external stressors such as reclamation are arguably more damaging than the likes of warming waters. In some parts of the world, including Hong Kong, marginal reefs are extremely resilient and face a bigger threat from direct human intervention than from climate change – yet they still exist and survive.

HK reefs face additional stressors such as land reclamation

From a personal perspective, I’ve always been a keen diver and have seen Hong Kong’s coral population degrade over time. To think that Hong Kong is home to more hard coral species than the entire Caribbean is both astonishing and encouraging. Astonishing because you wouldn’t expect that statistic, given the degradation. Encouraging because we understand our city’s vast potential.

CWR: How are Archireef’s tiles made and how are they more effective in keeping corals alive than conventional restoration methods? Do you stick the existing corals on top of the Archireef tiles or are eco-built corals stuck on top?

VY: Ultimately, the tiles are 3D-printed using a state-of-the-art custom printer that turns clay into what you see in the final product. The top layer is a biomimicry pattern that delivers alignment with nature and features to help coral fragments to attach better and hence grow and recover faster.

The tiles are 3D-printed with the top layer having a biomimicry pattern

This custom layer is combined with a standardized base, and the general design is meant to prevent sedimentation among other benefits. Finally, legs are attached to the bottom of the reef tiles, in order to provide stability. The 3D-printed reef tiles will then be deployed in the water by certified divers. Depending on site conditions – the divers might need to actively seed the tiles with rescued coral fragments (aka Corals of Opportunities), if natural recruitment is insufficient.

Our reef tiles have proven to be particularly successful in delivering survivorship. In other words, once the corals settle, 95% of them continue to survive, two years after initial deployment. This makes this methodology at least four times more impactful than most other methods.

What’s more, we believe modularity and scalability are the keys to generate significant climate impact, so the fact that a single diver can handle the deployment without the need for industrial machinery, puts us in a strong position and empowers us to get local communities involved in our restoration activities.

Once the corals settle, 95% of them continue to survive = 4x more impactful than other methods…

…what’s more, we offer modularity and scalability

CWR: What projects has Archireef undertaken? And what were the success stories and challenges you faced?

VY: Just over two years ago, we deployed our first set of reef tiles at Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park. The results we generated from this deployment show how important and impactful intervention in marine ecosystems can be. Again, up to date, we are securing 95% coral survivorship, which is at least 4 times higher than the traditional methods.

We faced challenges like clay composition & logistics but we are now scaling fast

When working on the first set of reef tiles, we faced challenges in production speed, in clay composition, and in logistics. These lessons were critical in taking our capabilities to the next level, and we learned and improved in all aspects since. Since those early days, we signed corporate clients that include the Sino Group and Chow Sang Sang in Hong Kong, as well as ADQ in the UAE where we are currently scaling fast.

CWR: We heard you’re planning to expand your production to Abu Dhabi very soon – congratulations! How is that going and why did you set-up there?

VY: We soft-opened our Abu Dhabi-based production facility in May this year, and have since refined our production process. We now run one of the region’s only eco engineering facilities, and we are looking to put more marine ecosystem R&D into practice here.

We already have customers in the UAE and are now looking to add more partners to the list. We have been fortunate to have received so much support from here, including from institutions like ADQ, Hub71, and KEZAD Group, all of which have played their part in making our landing soft and smooth.

We now run one of the region’s only eco engineering facilities and are growing customers in the UAE…

…our plans include expansion to South East Asia

CWR: Are there any other place(s) you would like to deploy Archireefs?

VY: For now, we continue to focus on Hong Kong and the UAE, but our plans for the next three years include an expansion to South East Asia in particular. We understand the value of coral reef infrastructure there, and we want to play an active role in preserving these critical systems.

CWR: To wrap, if you had one wish to the HK government, investors, and/ or the public, what would it be?

VY: I have to admit that the Hong Kong government has been incredibly proactive in the sustainability space. What’s especially encouraging is the willingness and the awareness that something has to be done, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies and solutions. I would simply ask the government to continue to push in that direction, so Hong Kong can become a global leader in nature preservation, a genuinely viable opportunity.

Increasing public education & continued govt push gives HK an opportunity to be a global leader in nature preservation

In terms of the public, let’s continue to connect with the ocean. We’re surrounded by it, and the more we understand about its intricacies the better we can help. In that sense, I would encourage everyone to learn more about corals, mangroves, seagrass, kelp, and other marine ecosystems, so we better appreciate their importance.


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