Harvard shows important progress toward 3D printing lithium-ion batteries


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Nov.26, 2013

Harvard scientists first introduced 3D printed batteries back in June. The team created lithium-ion microbatteries the size of a grain of sand using 3D printing technology. The battery, which are thinner than human hairs, could supply electricity to tiny devices such as robot insects, medical implants, as well as some inventions which have lingered on lab benches for lack of a battery small enough to fit the device.

Technology Review has taken a look at the work of Harvard materials scientist Jennifer Lewis and reported the two important steps toward printing electronic devices. First, scientists have invented a series of “functional inks that can solidify into batteries and simple components, including electrodes, wires, and antennas.”

Second, they have also developed nozzles and high-pressure extruders that squeeze out the batteries and other components from an industrial-grade 3-D printer. The inks are nearly solid when unperturbed but flow when a certain amount of pressure is applied. The 3D printer deposited the inks, at the room temperature, onto the teeth of two gold combs, creating a tightly interlaced stack of anodes and cathodes. Then the researchers packaged the electrodes into a tiny container and filled it with an electrolyte solution to complete the battery. It takes only a few minutes to print 3D batteries. Such custom 3D printing technology could speed up greatly the manufacturing process because it can deposit inks from hundreds of nozzles at the same time.

Another advantage is its ability to print tiny components with different designs rapidly. “These 3D lithium-ion microbatteries are as tiny as one millimeter square but perform as well as commercial batteries.” explains Technology Review. “because Lewis can render microscale architectures, and position structures with 100-nanometer accuracy, to mirror the structures of much bigger batteries.”

Lewis’s group is working on licensing and commercializing the technology in the next few years, and they may eventually produce a low-end printer for hobbyists as well.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

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