Guns? Sure. Aeroplane engines? Why not! But 3D-printing batteries has caused some headaches among researchers — until now. Because new inks and tools are making 3D-printed lithium ion cells a very real possibility.
Technology Review has taken a look at the work of Harvard materials scientist Jennifer Lewis and reports that, though in its early stages, it seems 3D-printed batteries will be heading our way before long. Her technique uses a series of “functional inks that can solidify into batteries and simple components, including electrodes, wires, and antennas.” Essentially, they’re suspensions of nanoparticles of the desired materials — say lithium for batteries or silver for wires — which float in a binder.
They’re deposited with extreme accuracy using high-pressure extruders — watch the GIF below — which force out the ink at room temperature. Almost solid at the time of printing, the material dries quickly to form components, so creating a simple battery from scratch can take just minutes.
And why’s this so useful? Technology Review explains:
Her printed lithium-ion batteries are as tiny as one millimetre square but perform as well as commercial batteries, because Lewis can render microscale architectures, and position structures with 100-nanometer accuracy, to mirror the structures of much bigger batteries.
In other words, these 3D-printed batteries might be able to replace conventional cells and yet be a fraction of the size. And given how much space li-ion takes up on gadgets these days, that can’t be a bad thing. [Technology Review]
Pictures: Technology Review