Texas State collaborates with Duke on 3D-printed battery research
Jayme Blaschke | October 24, 2018
Texas State University researchers have contributed to a groundbreaking method to 3D print lithium-ion batteries in virtually any shape.
Texas State's Christopher Rhodes, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, and Sibo Niu, a doctoral student in the Materials Science, Engineering and Commercialization program, collaborated with a research team in North Carolina from Duke University: Christopher Reyes, Rita Somogyi, Mutya A. Cruz, Feichen Yang, Matthew J. Catenacci and Dr. Benjamin J. Wiley on the project. Reyes is a graduate of Texas State, earning his B.S. in applied mathematics in 2014. That same year he was named a Texas State Rising Star.
The team published its findings, "Three-Dimensional Printing of a Complete Lithium Ion Battery with Fused Filament Fabrication," in the journal ACS Applied Energy Materials. The paper may be found online at pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsaem.8b00885.
“Texas State University contributed to testing 3D printed electrodes, establishing fabrication and testing methods for evaluating electrode and cell performance, and developing approaches to improve battery performance,” Rhodes said.
Most lithium-ion batteries on the market come in cylindrical or rectangular shapes. Therefore, when a manufacturer is designing a product—such as a cell phone—they must dedicate a certain size and shape to the battery, which could waste space and limit design options. Theoretically, 3D-printing technologies can fabricate an entire device, including the battery and structural and electronic components, in almost any shape. However, the polymers used for 3D printing, such as poly(lactic acid) (PLA), are not ionic conductors, creating a major hurdle for printing batteries. The Duke-Texas State team wanted to develop a process to print complete lithium-ion batteries with an inexpensive 3D printer.
The researchers increased the ionic conductivity of PLA by infusing it with an electrolyte solution. In addition, they boosted the battery’s electrical conductivity by incorporating graphene or multi-walled carbon nanotubes into the anode or cathode, respectively. To demonstrate the battery’s potential, the team 3D printed an LED bangle bracelet with an integrated lithium-ion battery. The bangle battery could power a green LED for about 60 seconds. According to the researchers, the capacity of the first-generation 3D-printed battery is about two orders of magnitude lower than that of commercial batteries, which is too low for practical use. However, they say that they have several ideas for increasing the capacity, such as replacing the PLA-based materials with 3D-printable pastes.