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3D-Printed Lithium-Ion Battery Is the Size of a Pinhead

We’ve discussed 3D printed robots, prosthetic noses, and even running shoes. Now a joint development effort by Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and visiting South Korean researchers has produced a tiny 3D printed lithium-ion battery that could be used one day as a power source for micromedical devices and robots.

This microbattery, which can fit on the head of a pin, is made by printing precisely interlaced stacks of battery electrodes — each narrower than a human hair. The research combines two current hotbeds of research activity: 3D printing, which is poised to transform manufacturing, and lithium-ion batteries, where scientists are trying to overcome charging and degradation issues.

Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and visiting researchers from South Korea have demonstrated the ability to 3D print a pinhead-sized battery. These interlaced and stacked electrodes were printed layer by layer to create the working anode and cathode.(Source: Jennifer A. Lewis/Harvard University)
Harvard University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and visiting researchers from South Korea have demonstrated the ability to 3D print a pinhead-sized battery. These interlaced and stacked electrodes were printed layer by layer to create the working anode and cathode.
(Source: Jennifer A. Lewis/Harvard University)

Shen Dillon, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois, and Jennifer A. Lewis, a professor of biologically inspired engineering at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, co-authored a study about their research with three Korean researchers. The National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy supported the work.

Dillon told us in an email that the research team targeted producing interdigitated filamentary electrodes with a radius comparable to the diameter of commercial oxide electrode particles. “We wanted these filaments to be relatively dense to improve the volumetric capacity and positioned closely to one another to improve transport mass kinetics — ie, diffusion through the electrolyte,” he said. “Inks are synthesized from nanoparticle powders and printed in a geometry defined by CAD software.”
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