Oct 27, 2017 | By David

Imagine a world where your phone battery never goes flat, because of a band you wear around your wrist. Sounds far-fetched? Well obviously you’ve not been keeping up with the latest developments in materials science. A recent breakthrough by researchers at London’s Brunel University has used 3D printing to produce a flexible supercapacitor, which could serve as a wearable battery booster pack. This is the first time that basic extrusion 3D printing techniques were used for this purpose, and it means that flexible supercapacitors can now be made cheaper and more easily than ever before.

The groundbreaking project was carried out by Brunel’s Cleaner Electronics Research Group, and they claim that it’s the first time a flexible supercapacitor has been produced through a single continuous process. “This is the first time a flexible supercapacitor including all its components has been produced by 3D printing,” said Milad Areir from the Cleaner Electronics Research Group. “The most popular way to produce them is screen printing, but with that you can’t print the frame of the supercapacitor on silicone.”

Their pioneering approach made use of a basic open-source 3D printer, which was hooked up by USB to a stepper motor. This then directed three or four syringes to extrude a special kind of electrolyte paste in between layers of glue and silicone. These different layers then solidify in place around a central supercapacitor, forming a wearable band that's also capable of acting as a direct and efficient power source. Supercapacitors are capable of storing relatively small amounts of energy on their surface, but they are capable of transferring their charge very quickly and they can do so cleanly, without the need for internal chemical reactions.

This process can make several wristbands in one go, printing in a honeycomb pattern that saves on time and materials and thus cuts down on costs. It’s a much more straightforward and accessible method than previous 3D printing techniques that were employed to produce flexible supercapacitors. Researchers from various other places have made flexible supercapacitors, and their processes tended to be multi-stage and multi-machine, using the more expensive Selective Laser Melting technology. Relatively cheap everyday items and materials can now be used, which makes the development of wearable batteries like this much more commercially viable.

“In future it can be used for mobile phones,” said Areir. “For example, if the phone battery is dead, you could plug the phone into the supercapacitator wristband and it could act as a booster pack, providing enough power to get to the next charging point.” The work of his team was recorded in a paper published in the journal Materials Science and Engineering.

Not only is this new 3D printing technique cheaper and faster, it’s also easy to copy and to experiment with different variations on flexible batteries and electronics, which might provide a modified or optimized product for specific applications. We could soon see the development of specialized wearable power packs not just for phones but for electric cars, medical implants like pacemakers, and much more besides.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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