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When it comes to technologies so ubiquitous that we can’t picture our world without them, it’s hard to do better than lithium-ion batteries. From cell phones to computers, these little power sources make the world go around. So it’s no wonder that researchers are jumping at the chance to increase their power or give them new shapes. As a result, researchers have managed to print lithium-ion batteries with new, varying functionalities and forms. Moreover, the researchers did this using PLA.

The advantage of 3D printing lithium-ion batteries is the ability to break their standard form. This would allow manufacturers of, for example, cell phones to produce new shapes of phones, no longer encumbered by the standard form of a typical battery, which is usually cylindrical or rectangular in nature. While that’s just one example, the research is crucial in improving the design of electronics across the board.

The researchers showed off the abilities of their lithium-ion batteries by printing a LED bangle bracelet. The bracelet could power a set of green LEDs for about 60 second, displaying electrical power two magnitudes lower than commercially available ones. While currently the power is too little for commercial use, the researchers are workshopping ways to improve them.

Preparing PLA for Conductivity

Researchers 3D Print Lithium-Ion Batteries Using PLA

The researcher infused PLA with a mixture of ethyl methyl carbonate, propylene carbonate, and LiClO4 to obtain an ionic conductivity of 0.085 mS cm–1, a value comparable to that of polymer and hybrid electrolytes. Different electrically conductive (Super P, graphene, multiwall carbon nanotubes) and active (lithium titanate, lithium manganese oxide) materials were blended into PLA to determine the relationships among filler loading, conductivity, charge storage capacity, and printability.

While the PLA has been helpful in the beginning, the researchers are considering replacing it with other materials. Printable pastes, for example, might be useful in producing higher power batteries in the long run. The technology could be potentially crucial in developing all sorts of new electronics. The ability to print lithium-ion batteries could be instrumental in producing bendable electronics as well.

Featured image courtesy of American Chemical Society. The Full study is available here.

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