Scientists Have Figured Out How to 3D Print Batteries

Guns? Sure. Airplane 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.

Scientists Have Figured Out How to 3D Print Batteries

And why's this so useful? Technology Review explains:

Her printed lithium-ion batteries are as tiny as one millimeter 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]

Images by Technology Review