3D printed battery: new smart inks to produce lithium-ion microbatteries

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Originally published on January 03, 2014

A new kind of "smart ink" developed by Harvard scientist Jennifer Lewis, head of the university's Lewis Lab, could enable traditional 3D printers to print tiny battery electrodes the size less than a human hair.

To make the ink, nanoparticles of lithium titanium oxide are added to a vial of deionized water and ethylene glycol. Ceramic balls are used as agitators to break down the particles. The mixture is spun for 24 hours, after which the balls and larger particles are removed using filters and a centrifuge. The resulting ink is placed in a syringe, which is then inserted into a high-pressure dispenser housed in a traditional 3D printer. The custom-made syringe's nozzle tips, as small as one micrometer wide at the opening, allow precise patterning.

The ink is solid under normal conditions, but liquefies under high pressure, so it returns to solid form once it leaves the syringe. The ink is used to print the battery's anode and cathode layer by layer following digital instructions. Finally, a case filled with electrolyte solutions encloses the electrodes to create a working lithium-ion microbatteries.

Using this technology, microbatteries could be in between other components to help reduce the size of the gadgets. The microbatteries could supply electricity to tiny devices in fields from medicine to communications, including many that currently only exist in labs because batteries currently available on the market are either not small enough or lack sufficient energy to power them.

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