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Revitalising marine ecosystems: D-Shape’s innovative 3D-printed reef restoration solution

Revitalising marine ecosystems:

D-Shape’s innovative 3D-printed reef restoration solution

A conversation with Mario Nuzzolese, Co-Founder and Chief Executive at D-Shape Limited, showcased the value of an entrepreneur’s journey. Mario spent decades developing his skills as a construction consultant and project director before co-founding D-Shape, an additive manufacturing company that is set to revitalise Hong Kong’s marine parks. 

Co-founded by Mario and Dr Enrico Dini, an Italian engineer, D-Shape specialises in large-scale 3D printing technology. The company uses a unique binder jetting process – invented by Dr Dini – to create materials with complex geometries and intricate details. D-Shape works with clients all over the world to create custom objects and structures, from the United Kingdom to the Netherlands, the Red Sea and beyond. They have most recently set up a base in Hong Kong.  

Passion, purpose and positive impact

Born on the Southeast coast of Italy, Mario has always felt a strong connection to the sea. Having worked in Spain, North Africa, the United States, the Middle East and everywhere in between, he became increasingly aware of the negative impact climate change is having on our planet’s marine ecosystems. In 2018, he connected with Dr Dini, one of the world’s foremost authorities on designing artificial marine clusters. Seeing an opportunity to use his skill set more meaningfully, Mario soon joined Dr Dini and D-Shape to combat the degradation of our seas.   

Made in collaboration with computational design teams, D-Shape developed a 3D-printed artificial coral that offers a more sustainable solution to the deterioration of coral reefs. These designs have undergone rigorous testing and consultation from specialist environmental groups, and is made of an ‘eco-concrete’ that is highly suitable as a substrate for marine organisms to attach to. What’s more, it has a far lower carbon footprint than traditional Portland cement.

D-Shape’s 3D-printed artificial coral reefs are durable and long-lasting; they can withstand the turbulent environment of the ocean floor and provide a safe habitat for some of our planet’s smallest sea creatures. “The reefs protect marine life, and in turn, as organisms attach to them, they are protected by marine life,” says Mario. “The artificial reef restoration process is, in fact, very natural.”

An ecologically successful entry into Hong Kong

In 2021, D-Shape was tasked by the Hong Kong Airport Authority to install artificial reefs on Lantau Island, close to the airport’s southern runway. They hoped the project would not only revitalise local coral populations in the Pearl River Delta, but also enhance the habitat of the Chinese White Dolphins. The collaboration was a great technical and ecological success, which inspired Mario to set up a permanent base in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong has a strategic location in Asia with a stable regulatory environment,” says Mario. “It offers a robust intellectual property protection scheme, which we have used for our products. It also has a low and simple competitive tax system, as well as free trade agreements with the Mainland and all ASEAN countries around.” 

In bringing D-Shape to Hong Kong, Mario needed to take on the role of an entrepreneur; the business of creating a business. He credits Invest Hong Kong for playing the role as a great facilitator throughout the process: “Thanks to them, we were able to get in touch with partners who supported us with the tools and facilities that have allowed us to grow as a startup.”

Future development

Following the success of the Lantau Island project, D-Shape recently signed a partnership with the Key State Laboratory of Marine Pollution to design enhancement measures for coastal protection, ecology and habitat protection in Hong Kong’s marine parks. Moreover, the company is currently exploring a possible large-scale seawall project along China’s coastline. This project would mark a significant milestone for the company and have an enormous positive impact on marine life in the Yellow Sea. 

Mario and his team are prepared for any challenges that may arise, and he is confident D-Shape’s innovative manufacturing technology will help protect and preserve the world’s oceans for many years to come. 

Through D-Shape, Mario has successfully turned his passion for marine conversation into a purposeful career. D-Shape’s success in using eco-concrete for reef restoration and sustainable construction has been recognised with several awards in Hong Kong, and the company is poised to expand its reach even further in the coming years. 

Advice for entrepreneurs and startups:

Do things quickly, but without haste. Don’t be afraid, but don’t throw yourself into the fire either. The major virtue to hold onto is temperance; being self-restrained and self-controlled.” 

– Mario Nuzzolese, Co-Founder and Chief Executive at D-Shape Limited