3D Printed Batteries The Size of a Grain of Sand

Back in June, 3Dprinter.net reported that researchers at Harvard were making a leap forward applying 3d printing to battery making.  This week they were recognized for that achievement by the Academic R&D Award at the IDTechEX Printed Electronics USA 2013 event.

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Their breakthrough was for printing a 3D lithium-ion micro battery that was the size of a grain of sand.  They were able to print the interdigitated, high-aspect ratio cathode and anode structures of the battery.  According to Jennifer Lewis, who is the senior author on the study

“The electrochemical performance is comparable to commercial batteries in terms of charge and discharge rate, cycle life and energy densities.  We’re just able to achieve this on a much smaller scale.”

The batteries occupy a volume of less than 1mm3 and are 1000 times smaller than any battery currently available on the market.  Once the process is perfected there is a wide range of practical applications for them including biomedical devices and distributed sensor arrays?

Smaller batteries means smaller applications.

They achieved this by creating two new extrusion based ink that was electrochemically active and able to harden into thin-film layers.  One ink was composed of nanoparticles of a lithium metal oxide compound and a second ink from nanoparticles of another.  They then printed them into two gold combs, using one of the inks for the anode layers and another for the cathode layers, tightly interlacing the two combs together.  Their full paper is available online here.

The Academic R&D Award was created to recognize researchers who “made a significant contribution over the past 24 months to the understanding of the principles and accrued knowledge behind printed electronics.”  The award was presented to Ms. Lewis along with Professor Wyss of the Biologically Inspired Engineering and the head of the Wyss Institute.

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