Is 3D Printing the future of batteries? Yes, I believe it is!
I am a battery enthusiast, spending most of my free time researching batteries and their uses.
In this post, I take a look at 3D printed batteries, a new technology poised to change the world of energy storage. I’ll look at how these batteries work and how they can help us in our daily lives.
Advantages of 3D Printed Batteries – At a glance
- Higher energy density than conventional lithium batteries
- Can be made in varying shapes and sizes
- Cheaper to Produce
- Less waste so more sustainable
- Safer – no liquid electrolyte to get hot
- Longer lifespan
What is 3D Printing and How does it work?
Also known as Additive Manufacturing, 3D printing is the process of creating a three-dimensional object by printing and layering the source material. These layers harden and compose the target object from a digital file.
The first 3D printers were invented in the 1980s and the technology has advanced in the meantime. 3D printing is now used to create many things, including food, clothes, furniture, and even prosthetic limbs.
3D Printing materials include plastics, metals, powders, resins, and even wood and stone!
Disadvantages of traditional Li-ion Batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are useful and are used in everyday life. Cell phones, laptops, E-Bikes, power tools, and solar power backup storage all use li-ion to run.
And by 2050, there will be fifty million li-ion vehicles powered vehicles worldwide.
Yet lithium-ion has sustainability issues. Producers have to extract vast quantities of lithium to make these batteries. Natural supplies are not inexhaustible.
The extraction and refining processes are energy-intensive and polluting. This damages the soil and atmosphere and has a negative effect on local wildlife.
Traditional lithium batteries are cumbersome with little flexibility in size or shape. They are prone to catching fire in some circumstances and are tricky to recycle. In fact, every 20 tonnes of recycled lithium produces only one tonne that is reusable.
The manufacturing process used to create traditional li-ion batteries is wasteful and expensive. Lithium-ion batteries face issues with capacity and energy density.
So the race is on to find methods of battery production that are safer, cheaper, and sustainable. 3-D printed solid-state batteries may be the answer.
How are solid-state batteries different from conventional batteries?
Traditional lithium batteries differ from solid-state batteries in cost and performance. But the main structural difference is the electrolyte.
The electrolyte forms a barrier that separates the positive pole (cathode) of the battery from the negative pole (the anode).
It is a chemical compound that acts as a medium through which an electric current can flow. In traditional batteries, the electrolyte is a liquid, such as sulfuric acid. In solid-state batteries, the electrolyte is a solid, such as a ceramic compound.
The solid-state battery improves on traditional lithium-ion in key areas. These include safety, longevity, charging speed, charge cycles, and energy density.
Solid-state batteries will surpass the lifespan of current electric vehicle batteries. And it is not a small improvement.
Current estimates predict an extension from 200,000 miles to around two million. That is ten times longer than the lithium-ion batteries now in use.
Advantages of Solid-State Batteries
The manufacture of conventional batteries rolls up four separate layers into cylinders. These are the conductive material, the cathode, the anode, and the electrolyte.
This process, known as jelly roll construction, puts incredible strain on these materials. To survive the process undamaged they are used in relatively thick quantities. As a result, conventional li-ion batteries are large, heavy and expensive to make.
In contrast, the production of solid-state batteries uses smaller quantities of materials. These have a higher energy density, meaning that they can be made smaller, but hold the same amount of energy.
Benefits of 3D Printing Solid-State Batteries
3D printing is generally much more efficient than traditional methods of manufacturing. Conventional fabrication starts with large sheets of its main material. This is then cut and whittled down into the required quantities.
This process creates scrap offcuts of the material, which can be difficult to recycle.
In contrast, 3d printing uses only exact quantities of the source substance. This reduces scrap waste by between 70 and 90 percent and makes the process less expensive.
Even with solid-state batteries, traditional methods of manufacture are complex. Extreme levels of dryness and expensive machinery are required. Hence the reason why they are not yet ubiquitous.
The 3D printing method looks to be simpler and more streamlined. It creates batteries with comparative ease.
3D printing can create objects with a great degree of flexibility and customizability. Makers will design and build batteries in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Batteries can thus be created to fit the design, rather than the designers accommodating bulky shapes.
The accuracy of 3D printing is a huge plus for battery making. Precision printing can create batteries with tiny pores, channels and lattices. These increase the surface area of the battery, thus increasing its capacity.
Engineers from Glasgow University’s James Watt School of Engineering tested 3D-printed Lithium batteries. Results using nano and microscale pores indicated that a battery with 70% porosity had a capacity 2 to 3 times higher than its solid equivalent.
Results published in Journal of Power Sources explain more.
“The 3D printing process we’ve used in this research gives us a remarkable amount of control over the electrodes’ porosity, allowing us to engineer very precisely a new metamaterial capable of addressing some of the shortcomings of the current generation of lithium-ion batteries. We’ve created a battery with a high specific capacity and areal capacity with excellent cyclability.”
-Dr Shanmugam Kumar, Glasgow University’s James Watt School of Engineering [link]
This means that smaller quantities of Lithium are needed to store more power. This can only be good news for the planet.
Where are we at with 3D Printed Batteries
The tech firm has manufactured a 3Ah solid-state lithium battery. This is similar to the batteries currently used in handheld power tools. It uses Sakuu’s proprietary technology to print each layer of the battery in one go. This includes the ceramic electrolyte separating the anode and cathode.
According to Inceptivemind.com, Sakuú claims that their new 3D printed battery “equals or betters” those currently available.
Current lithium batteries achieve 500-700 Wh/L in energy density. Whereas Sakuú expects their 3D-printed lithium batteries to achieve 1200 Wh/L by 2023.
“The arrival of a safe, sustainable, and high-performance SSB, manufactured with a totally novel 3D printing method can solve critical supply chain and safety issues while moving beyond limitations of today’s lithium-ion batteries,”
– Robert Bagheri, Founder and CEO of Sakuú [link]
Blackstone has 3D printing technology in an advanced state of development. They make both electrodes for use in liquid-electrolyte batteries and solid-state batteries.
They have developed thick layer technology (TLT). It produces solid-state 3D batteries with 20% more energy density than current batteries. Blackstone’s goal is to increase that by at least 100% going forward.
“Our 3D-printed batteries allow us to increase the energy density of our charge carriers by 20% while significantly reducing the effects on the environment. The patented process is based on an ecological, purely water-based process and reduces waste by 50%. In this way, we are making an important and lasting contribution to the transport revolution and to the fight against climate change.”
– Ulrich Ernst, Founder and CEO of Blackstone Resources [link]
Is 3D Printing the Future of Batteries – The Verdict
3D printing is already revolutionizing the manufacturing industry. And it’s only going to become more widespread in the coming years. As a result, 3D printed batteries will become the next big thing in the world of battery technology.
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