ba7In this day and age, where nearly everyone in the developed world has a smartphone or maybe even two, and with the future of battery operated vehicles looking incredibly bright, there is one main problem; our battery technology is not keeping up with other technologies, oftentimes hindering their development as well. While high definition screens, major processing power and all sorts of other features are available on smartphones now-a-days, the one thing that users complain about the most is battery life.  A lack of reliable batteries is also what has been holding back the electric car industry over the past decade.

If, however, the Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Electrochemical and Nanotechnology at Manchester Metropolitan University, Craig Banks, has his way, this may soon all change, thanks in part to a miracle material called graphene, and a miracle technology called 3D printing.

As you may recall, there are others, particularly Graphene 3D Lab, who are working on combining graphene, via a conductive composite filament, and 3D printing to produce longer lasting, more stable and reliable batteries.

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Banks and his team, funded by £500,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, are taking a similar approach in using graphene inks to print intricate 3D structures. This will hopefully increase the charge storage of the batteries and supercapacitors that they create.ba1

“Energy storage systems (ESS) are critical to address climate change and, as clean energy is generated through a variety of ways, an efficient way to store this energy is required,” Banks explained. “Lithium and sodium ion batteries and super/ultracapacitors are promising approaches to achieve this. This project will be utilizing the reported benefits of graphene – it is more conductive than metal – and applying these into ESS. We’re trying to achieve a conductive ink that blends the fantastic properties of graphene with the ease of use of 3D printing to be manipulated into a structure that’s beneficial for batteries and supercapacitors.”

ba2The team on the project, which will run for three and a half years, certainly has their work cut out for them. While others have 3D printed using graphene in the past, the majority of work done by these other companies and research teams have relied on only graphene composites, or ‘semi-graphene,’ as Banks calls it. These materials are composed of a mixture of graphene and either carbon black or graphite, meaning that they do not possess all of the defining attributes one would typically find with pure graphene, equating to poorer performance. Time is also an inhibiting factor in all of this, as each printed layer needs to be cured prior to the next layer being printed on top.

“We need to figure out a way to cure it directly, possibly by shining a UV light on to it, as anything above a micron level takes a long time,” Banks added. “Ideally, we could have the brilliant scenario where you just plug in and go – printing whatever structure you want out of graphene from a machine on your desk.”

With battery usage about to skyrocket as local energy storage and electric vehicles become mainstream, such a breakthrough could have a ripple effect through numerous industries and lead to both cleaner and more reliable technologies. Let us know your thoughts on this research and what you think it could mean for the tech industry in general. Discuss in the 3D Printed Graphene Battery forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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