Jul 28, 2017 | By David

The positive effects that 3D printing technology can have on the environment are well known, with its potential for using fewer resources and the recyclability of many of the materials used working towards securing a smaller carbon footprint and a better environmental impact for the manufacturing industry. A pioneering new project, Cell3Ditor, by the Catalan Energy Research Institute is now aiming to leverage ceramics 3D printing to help the environment more directly, with the production of new, more efficient fuel cells.

The project is being funded by the European Union through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH-JU), and sees the Catalan Energy Research Institute collaborating with various advanced European research centers and companies. These include ceramics 3D printer manufacturer 3DCeram, Promethean Particles, Hygear Fuel Cell Systems, Saan Energi, Denmark Technical University, FAE, and the University of La Laguna. The project is referred to as Cell3Ditor, and aims to develop multi-material technologies for ceramics that can be used in the manufacturing of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs).

Scheme of the value chain of the Cell3Ditor

A SOFC cell is a high temperature device, typically operating between 700 and 800C. It is used for the conversion of the chemical energy of a gaseous fuel into electricity and heat, reaching global efficiencies above 90%. Implementing the technology is dependent in large part on how durable the materials can be, as well as how cost effective and time-consuming the production process can be.

Scheme of the Cell3Ditor process

Currently, manufacturing a SOFC requires more than 100 stages of production, with the different components being made separately and assembled with vitreous seals. This complexity greatly increases the costs of both production and initial investment, which is estimated at around € 4.8 million. This tends to reduce flexibility and limit the introduction of innovations.

3D printing technology could change all this for the better, cutting down production time and costs as well as drastically simplifying the whole assembly process. 3D printing techniques also allow for an improved final product, as the cell could be made in one single piece. The absence of joints or assembly points would make the cell much stronger and more robust, as well as increasing its operating capacity.

A new 3D printer has been developed for the project, adapted from an existing SLA machine used for ceramics. The new 3D printer will be capable of multi-material printing. According to estimates, a 3D printer such as this will be able to simultaneously produce 4 batteries of 5 kW, which assumes an approximate output to 1000 units per year.  Final cost per unit would remain below 500 Euros, which is 59% lower than the current standard system.

Due to the unification of the manufacturing stages and the possibility for the cell to be formed in the same process, using a single piece of machinery would seriously reduce the required initial investment, now estimated at 1.6 million Euros. This is a capital cost below 120 Euros, which represents a reduction of 72% compared to conventional technologies. Another key benefit would be that an SOFC could now be produced and released to the market in a matter of months, as opposed to years.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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