Scientists at Brunel University London have become the first to devise a simple and affordable method of 3D printing a flexible battery.
These days, the long hours spent charging our wearables and gadgets represent the most significant amount of time we spend away from them. Portable chargers have already started to fill that powerless void. Now, it looks as though technology developed at Brunel University London could keep devices running for longer.
With the help of readily available household supplies and a 3D printer, scientists at Brunel have devised a flexible, wearable battery that can be implanted into a plastic wristband. The technique opens the door for experimental wearable designs that could provide a handy source power for phones, medical implants and more.
3D printing a supercapacitor
Although 3D printers are typically limited to design studios and maker’s workshops, it may not be too long before they are more common in everyday homes and offices. With that in mind, printing a personal battery that doubles as a wearable seems a good idea.
According to a blog post published by Brunel, the process is straightforward: “The printer squirts stacks of silicone, glue and gel electrolyte pastes like a layer cake, to make what looks like a clear festival wristband. Sandwiched inside is a supercapacitor, which stores energy like a battery, but on its surface and without chemical reactions.”
The project has been undertaken by Brunel’s Cleaner Electronics Research Group. Its focus is to reduce the environmental impact of electronic consumer products in pursuit of sustainable progress.
“This is the first time a flexible supercapacitor including all its components has been produced by 3D printing,” said the group’s Milad Areir, co-author of the report, A study of 3D printed flexible supercapacitors onto silicone rubber substrates.
“The most popular way to produce them is screen printing, but with that, you can’t print the frame of the supercapacitor on silicone. Our technique brings it all together into one process with one machine. It will definitely save time and costs on expensive materials,” said Areir.
A step forward for battery technology
Researchers around the world have been pioneering novel ways to create flexible supercapacitors. But many of those methods are costly and rely on 3D laser selective melting machines and multiple stages to print different parts.
Brunel’s work suggests that a simple, powered-up wristband can be made using inexpensive items you can find in any hardware store, instead of expensive metals or semiconductors. The flexible batteries also stand up to stress tests without losing power.
“This has developed a novel 3D printing method for manufacturing flexible supercapacitators, by one single continuous process using low-cost flexible silicone compatible with the electrode, current collector and electrolyte materials,” the study says.
According to Brunel, it may soon be simple for anybody to print their own battery. All they will need is an open-source printer connected by USB to a syringe driver and a motor. After that, it’s just a case of printing the layers in a honeycomb pattern.
The simple design means that less material needs printing and the process is fast. It also leaves room for designers to experiment with different shapes.
The process is easy to copy, according to the study, and shows 3D printing using paste extrusion can be used to develop more sophisticated electronic devices with different mixes of paste.
“In future it can be used for mobile phones,” said Milad. “For example, if the phone battery is dead, you could plug the phone into the supercapacitor wristband and it could act as a booster pack, providing enough power to get to the next charging point.”
On 28 & 29 November 2017, we will be holding our Battery and Energy Storage Show event at The Slate at Warwick University Campus, UK, featuring a wide range of specialist speakers from both the private and public sectors.