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Printing Tiny Batteries


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An interlaced stack of electrodes generated by a 3D printer.

A research team from Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has demonstrated the ability to 3D print a battery. This image shows the interlaced stack of electrodes that were printed layer by layer to create the working anode and cathode of a microbattery.

Credit: Jennifer A. Lewis

Researchers at Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have printed precisely interlaced stacks of tiny battery electrodes, each less than the width of a human hair.

"Not only did we demonstrate for the first time that we can 3D-print a battery; we demonstrated it in the most rigorous way," says Harvard professor Jennifer Lewis.

To print the three-dimensional electrodes, the researchers created and tested several specialized inks that must exit fine nozzles and immediately harden into their final form. The inks also function as electochemically active materials to create working anodes and cathodes, and they had to solidify into thin layers. To meet these objectives, the researchers produced an ink for the anode with nanoparticles of one lithium metal oxide compound, and an ink for the cathode from nanoparticles of another.

The printer deposited the inks onto the teeth of two gold combs, creating a tightly interlaced stack of anodes and cathodes. The researchers then bundled the electrodes into a tiny container and filled it with an electrolyte solution to complete the battery.

"Jennifer's innovative microbattery ink designs dramatically expand the practical uses of 3D printing, and simultaneously open up entirely new possibilities for miniaturization of all types of devices, both medical and non-medical," says Harvard's Donald Ingber.

From Harvard University
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