3D Printing Lithium Ion Cells


[Jennifer Lewis] is a Harvard Materials Scientist, and she’s recently come up with a type of Lithium Ion “Ink” that allows her to 3D print battery cells.

You might remember our recent 3D Printering article on Pastestruders, but this research certainly takes it up a few notches. The ink is made up of nano-particles of Lithium Titanium in a solution of de-ionized water and ethylene glycol. When producing the ink, small ceramic balls are added to the mixture to help break up microscopic clumps of said particles. The mixture is then spun for 24 hours, after which the larger particles and ceramic balls are removed using a series of filters. The resulting ink is a solid when unperturbed, but flows under extreme pressures!

This means a conventional 3D printer can be used, with only the addition of a high pressure dispenser unit. We guess we can’t call it a hot-end any more…  The ink is forced out of a syringe tip as small as 1 micrometer across, allowing for extremely precise patterning. In her applications she uses a set up with many nozzles, allowing for the mass printing of the anodes and cathodes in a huge array. While still in the research phase, her micro-scale battery architectures can be as small as a square millimeter, but apparently compete with industry batteries that are much larger.

And here’s the exciting part:

Although she says the initial plan is to provide tools for manufacturers, she may eventually produce a low-end printer for hobbyists.

3D Printable electronics. The future is coming!

[Thanks Keith!]

17 thoughts on “3D Printing Lithium Ion Cells

  1. Fantastic use of the technology, this will undoubtedly allow the manufacture of batteries that fit the free space in devices rather than having to clear space for them using existing tech.

    1. no, this is the biggest 3d printing fallacy – it does NOT enable manufacturing.
      Manufacturing is making something in bulk, smelting/ stamping it. NOT taking 30 minutes to make one using complicated machinery that breaks more than it works.

      There are no economies of scale in 3D printing.

      1. This. To be industry viable it has to be cast able or somehow possible to put onto a conveyor belt. While this does open up for specialized batteries it’s not for mass production in its current state it seems.

        1. And it’s a good thing too. If it were scalable, it would lead to widespread use of batteries using oddball shapes that would be beyond the capability of the average user to replace. Once the battery goes, the device goes in the trash. Assuming the manufacturer chose to sell replacement batteries at all, they’d have you over a barrel, being able to charge whatever they want as they’d be the only source. With no chance of rebuilding the battery pack with standard cells from elsewhere.

          1. I’d counter this with two arguments:
            1) An entire industry would spring up printing replacement batteries and accessories like phone cases lined with small cells to boost battery life.
            2) The “average” user can’t replace the battery on an iPhone. They send it to a technician or trade it in.
            Even though this isn’t something I can include in today’s projects I’m always looking at what will be available to me, as a hobbyist, in 5 to 10 years time and i like this.

        2. And why, exactly, do you think a matrix of printer heads like in the picture above could not be positioned over a conveyor belt, on which material to print onto is moved, printed, moved, printed, …
          The technique as described in the post is not ready for that, as is the case with much research. But there is nothing inherent in the technology AFAICS that bars scalability.

        3. Definately limited thinking espoused in this comment: see the many replies below.

          However, to put a little more into it:

          Not EVERYTHING has to be built in INDUSTRIAL quantities. In fact, hobbyists and “garage inventors” are perfect for almost all 3D print capabilities, and … as you should know … garage hobbyists created both Apple and HP, amongst others. In the infancy of computers, IBM’s Watson could see no need for more than, 3*? (* – I don’t remember the exact number). Many folks saw no future for the TV, telephone, or video phones (a la Skype). They were both right and wrong, as at the time, no one *had* to have these things. But once the world got access to them … life for many, changed.

          Envisioning future uses of revolutionary technology, is difficult at best. Declaring such to be non-useful, is shortshighted, at best.

          How many “tech-geeks” would LOVE to have one of “Star-Trek’s” replicators? While 3D printers are not there (yet), they are a LOT closer than having to wait for some manufacturer to see the need for a part to use in YOUR dream project.

          1. Comparing a 3d printer to a replicator does no one any good and gets us into jetpack and flying car let down territory.

            3D printers will NEVER be a Star-Trek replicator sorry it’s just not physically possible you can’t print chips. Even today we have CPUs who’s architecture is already down to ten atoms across and its getting smaller. A printer can never do that no matter how good it gets so you’re always going to need real chips. We’ll be able to print simple electronics but

            no 3D printers are great tools with a lot of real uses but they’re not the end all be all tool of the world.

          2. Overselling a product’s capabilities is horribly bad, that I do concede. But, I am pretty sure that no one would confuse a Star Trek Replicator to anything available today. That said, I stand by the ideology that having the ability to “manufacture” something at “home” that is otherwise either not available or too expensive … is a “geek-dream-come-true”. I have a hard time believing that I am the only such geek.

          3. [” I stand by the ideology that having the ability to “manufacture” something at “home” that is otherwise either not available or too expensive … is a “geek-dream-come-true”.”]

            john you just described what everyone on this site already does and has been doing long before the first 3D printers was ever made. again 3D printers are a great tool but they’re just another among many.

      2. 3D printing a battery directly onto a product, if the speed can be increased sufficiently, is not that different from a pick and place machine placing each component individually.

        You don’t need to produce sequentially to have a viable production line, you can do certain steps in parallel if they take too long.

        I am not saying 3D printing has to be the future of every production line, but there is nothing that says it can’t be a part of producing things that would not be possible without it. For example personalized products, or just things that can’t be physically put together cheaper in any other way. You won’t see 3D printed toothbrushes, but you might see 3D printed personalized phones or action figures, or industrial equipment where cost is less of an issue and adding an extra function at a high cost is acceptable.

  2. Pretty good stuff to look forward to, but making the batteries replaceable would probably ruin all the advantages. Even so, this will be great for electronic business cards and the rest of the disposable geek candy.

  3. I see a problem here – doesn’t it need “special treatment”. Production of Lithium batteries need that – they hate oxygen for example… Also if this special solution manages with all problems of Lithium batteries production, capacitance shall be much lower with much higher weight and costs of production. Sorry for being skeptic :)

  4. Well im not caring to much about the battery and if it works or not and i don’t think that’s really the important part here , its the resolution 0.o cannot wait to see what happens next

  5. O2 can be worked around, you just run the printer in a dry nitrogen or argon atmosphere.
    This approach is already used on OLED production lines and also has the advantage that the finished product is substantially more reliable than the older method of vacuum evaporation and sealing with Epoxy or UV curing resin.
    E-ink displays also use this approach for the same reason (the oil absorbs water like a sponge!)

    Also worth mentioning, the chemistry used is a lot less sensitive to water than others such as the CoO2 or FePO4 systems.
    This would be ideal for linear wire batteries which could hit the market as soon as 2015.

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