We’ve all gotten pretty adept at 3D printing keychains and enclosures. Some people can even 3D print circuit boards to an extent. But the real goal is a Star Trek-style replicator that just pushes out finished products. Printing different components would be a key technology and unless you want to supply external power, one of those components better be a battery or other power source like a solar cell. A recent paper entitled Additive Manufacturing of Batteries explores this technology. The paper is behind a paywall, but you can probably find a copy if you are persistent.
Some of the techniques are pretty exotic. For example, holographic lithography can produce high-performance lithium-ion batteries. However, some of the processes didn’t sound much different than some of the more common printing techniques employed by desktop printers, although with more exotic materials. For example, some batteries can be made with inkjet printing and even fused deposition printing.
The paper is a review and the techniques range from fairly simple to truly exotic. One common thread: none of these technologies are completely successful for commercial use. The biggest problem doesn’t seem to be in realizing the geometry of the anode and cathode. Rather, it is forming shapes with materials that will act as the different parts of the battery. There are other challenges, too. For example, fabricating lithium ion needs to be in an argon glove box to lock out oxygen and water.
It isn’t all bad news, though. According to the paper, 3D printed electrodes may have more surface area than conventional electrodes leading to better batteries. The only concern is the mechanical strength of those electrodes.