Sep 1, 2016 | By Alec

Just what can’t be 3D printed? Back in February, a team of Irish researchers revealed that even batteries are on the menu, when they were awarded an ERC grant to develop 3D printed nanobatteries. But a team of researchers from the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan are already one step further, as they have just 3D printed a magnesium battery. Smaller than conventional batteries, it is up to three times more efficient than lithium or nickel alternatives thanks to the ability to store more power and charge very rapidly. What’s more, it is produced in a matter of minutes, rather than hours.

This fantastic innovation has been developed by Department of Materials professors Hong Feiyi and LvChuan Sheng, and was inspired by electric cars and motorcycles. The batteries used in those vehicles are notoriously bulky, heavy and difficult and time-consuming to produce. In fact, little has changed in that field over the past decade or so. And as 3D printing is quickly becoming known for its time and material saving properties, the professors decided to combine the two.

So how can 3D printing improve battery production? In a nutshell, it does so by completely turning the production process upside down. Electric car batteries are currently produced through at least four steps: powder synthesis, adding powder binder and stirring it in, powder coating and pressing, and finally baking. In total, it takes about 24 hours.

But laser-based 3D printing, in contrast, combines several of these steps. Using their 10,000 degrees Celsius femtosecond laser, the Taiwanese researchers can effectively melt the powder, add and mix in the binder, and coat, press and bake the battery in one single step. The battery is thus effectively produced in just two steps: powder synthesis and direct 3D printing. This takes just three minutes, and even produces a more effective battery as the laser fusion processes creates an ‘intermetallic layer’ that increases the battery’s electric capacity. In contrast, conventional batteries take even longer to produce if you want to achieve such an increased capacity.

Research team from the National Cheng Kung University’s Department of Materials, with professor Hong Feiyi second from left and LvChuan Sheng on the left.

As Hong Feiyi explained, this can fundamentally change battery production and functionality. The intermetallic layer increases capacity, while the final battery is very small and is charged very quickly. It also paves the way for a variety of new applications, as it is very lightweight and can be easily stacked through 3D printing. As each stack increases the battery’s capacity, custom batteries could be produced for custom applications – giving users far more control over their batteries than ever before.

But it doesn’t end there. For the Taiwanese researchers have added an extra level of innovation by using synthetic magnesium powder as the battery anode material – a material they have been experimenting with for years. 3D printing just two layers of the powder increases the battery capacity to more than 600mAh/g, while non 3D printed magnesium batteries max out at around 500mAh/g. But the same process could also improve lithium batteries, they add. When using conventional production methods, extra layers of lithium increase battery capacity by 155 mAh/g, while 3D printing would boost capacity by 200mAh/g.

This could thus fundamentally change the way batteries are produced and used. As the Taiwanese researchers revealed, their extensive experiments confirmed that by using magnesium and 3D printing, they can produce batteries that are three times more powerful than conventional lithium, manganese, or nickel batteries. Incidentally, they also believe that this dispels one prevailing 3D printing myth – that 3D printing is only suitable for custom production. Thanks to the short production times of their batteries, they say, 3D printing becomes a very viable mass production tool.

The Taiwanese researchers are currently working hard to bring this fascinating innovation to production, and have already filed a patent application in Taiwan, which will be certified soon. They are also calling for a greater convergence of 3D printing technology with battery powder engineering, metallurgy and electrochemical coagulation, saying it can definitely have a future outside laboratories.

So when can we expect these batteries? While no release date is in sight, Lvchuan Sheng said that they have already reached a preliminary cooperation consensus with ITRI South Branch and Dr. Huang Weiqin of a laminated laser manufacturing technology center. Hopefully, they say, they can bring 3D printed batteries to the market in the near future.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Shandor wrote at 9/9/2016 3:43:08 PM:

Since they are using the laser to sinter the powdered metal together anyway, why is a binder needed at all? Sintering is the word for melting powder particles together. I love 3D printing and the potential for improving batteries, which are the Achilles Heel of electric cars (so Tesla Motors could be interested) but maybe these fellows should also talk to the folks at ModuMetal, which creates layered alloys with their patented electroplating techniques. Maybe together they could devise batteries of huge capacity and which don't overheat.

Leo Thium wrote at 9/1/2016 1:02:20 PM:

Can I please have one for my quadcopter.

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