We have pretty much seen that 3D printing can make everything possible, from every little machine to every big structure, 3D printers are capable of creating most things we expect. However, this time 3D printers are doing something out of the ordinary, something that requires not just structure, but chemical power. Researchers from Ireland had previously predicted rapid prototyping batteries once they were granted an ERC reward for developing Nano batteries with rapid prototyping.
Although the Irish predicted rapid prototyed batteries, researchers from Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University are already a step ahead with their magnesium battery created with rapid prototyping. The advantages over regular batteries are that these 3D printed ones are much smaller, which makes them unique. They are also more than three times faster and much more productive than nickel or lithium batteries given their ability to reserve power and charge quickly. Even more, it only takes a few minutes to manufacture, unlike regular batteries which take hours.
This incredible innovation was inspired by the idea of electric cars and motorcycles and was advanced by two professors from the Department of materials, Hong Feiyi and LvChuan Sheng. Batteries put in electric cars or motorcycles are large in size and moderately heavy, which is very challenging to create, not to mention unproductive, and not much has changed in the recent years. Given these challenges, the professors decided to turn to 3D printing to combine the two ideas, given the fact that it is well-known for its efficiency.
The question arises in how manufacturing batteries by 3D printing is better. The answer lies in the process of producing these batteries. At the moment manufacturing an electric car battery requires four different steps- powder synthesis, stirring in powder binder, coating with powder and pressing it down, and lastly baking. This entire process requires around 24 hours.
On the other hand, rapid prototyping merges many of these steps together for ease and to save time. With a 10,000 degrees Celsius femtosecond laser, these researchers efficiently melt powders, mix binders, cover, and press and bake the battery all in one simple step. Thus, it only requires two steps to produce the battery – powder synthesis and finally the 3D printing. All of these together takes no more than 3 minutes. Not just that, these 3D printed batteries are also more efficient and effective since the laser used for the fusion forms an intermetallic layer which increases the battery’s ability to store more power. These qualities are the reason people are looking to produce batteries using 3D printers over the conventional way which takes days to produce and is also less efficient.
According to Hong Feiyi, this method can radically develop battery productivity and performance. The overall capacity increases due to the intermetallic layer, while the size decreases and charging speed increases. Even though the size has been made smaller for ease of use, its capacity is higher than before. Being lightweight makes it easy to use in numerous cases, such as stacking, which increases power of the appliance or device it is being used in, as well as making custom batteries for custom uses. All these give users control over their batteries which they could not achieve with normal batteries.
The innovation does not end here. The Taiwanese have now added a whole new level of innovation where they use synthetic magnesium powder to program as the anode of the battery, something they have been analyzing for years. Regular batteries have a capacity of around 500mAh/g, while rapid prototyping two layers of powder gives a battery capacity of more than 600mAh/g. They also added that this technique could be used to improve lithium batteries. Just adding extra layers to the battery could increase capacity by 155mAh/g and doing the same with 3D printers could improve capacity by 200mAh/g.
The Taiwanese researchers have confirmed that by using this method to manufacture batteries they could produce batteries that are more than three times stronger and more efficient than conventional nickel, manganese, or lithium batteries. These researchers also believe that this method resolves some common rapid prototyping myths such as the fact that it can only be used for custom production. Due to its short manufacturing time the 3D printer is a very feasible mass producer and can essentially change the method of battery production.
These researchers are now trying to get this innovation to production by filling patent applications in Taiwan which are to be certified soon. Along with that they are also requesting for a larger convergence of rapid prototyping with battery engineering, electrochemical concentration, and metallurgy. According to them these have better uses outside laboratories.
Although 3D printed batteries are not yet in the market, they soon will be, given the fact that Sheng has reached a preceding cooperation consensus with a Dr. Huang Weiqin of a laser production center and ITRI South Branch. According to Sheng and Weiqin, 3D printed batteries will very soon be available for use.
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