Need a New Electric Car Battery in the Future? Why Not Just Print It?

It’s super thin — one atom thick in fact — can be produced in a kitchen blender (if you know how to) and can be used to make everything from super-capacitors to helping filter clean, safe drinking water. And if you’re the sort to follow lithium-ion battery technology developments, you’ll know that graphene, the wonder material of the twenty-first century, is also a common ingredient in ultra-high capacity lithium-ion battery packs.

That’s because graphene, thanks to its microporous structure, has an incredible surface area, making it the ideal material to use for making battery pack electrodes. But because of fairly process intensive construction methods — coating another material in graphene in the lab, or making graphene nanotubes thinner than a human hair using some pretty nasty chemicals — graphene-impregnated battery packs haven’t made it to market yet.

But now a team of scientists say they’ve got a new way of creating an energy-dense graphene battery pack which could revolutionise battery manufacturing forever: 3D printing.

While only in the prototype phase, 3D printed batteries hold great potential for changing the way electric cars are made.

While only in the prototype phase, 3D printed batteries hold great potential for changing the way electric cars are made.

Enter Graphene 3D Labs Inc., which — as Green Car Congress explains — develops, manufacturers and markets graphene-based nanoncomposite materials for use in various 3D printing applications. As part of its portfolio, the company has just developed a new 3D printable graphene battery which could not only change the face of battery construction forever but also make it easier than ever before to make high-capacity lithium-ion batteries on a massive commercial scale using multi-matieral 3D printers.

What’s more, the practice of printing a battery could even make it possible to build structural battery packs: ones which serve not only as an energy store but a structural component in everything form a smartphone or gadget to an electric car.

As with any battery breakthrough, being able to do something in a laboratory on a small scale is completely different to reproducing it on a commercial scale, but the 3D printing methods used are subject of a provisional patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

“The application filled by Graphene 3D has the potential to play an important role in achieving the ability to print electronic devices due to the necessity of providing a power source,” said Daniel Stolyarov, CEO of Graphene 3D Lab Inc., in an official statement. “Expanding our IP portfolio in this area is an important step in keeping with Graphene 3D’s primary goal of creating an ecosystem for 3D printing functional devices with advanced materials.”

The 3D-printed battery is housed within a structural 3D printed case.

The 3D-printed battery is housed within a structural 3D printed case.

Sadly, at the time of writing, prototype 3D-printed graphene batteries aren’t anywhere near the size or power levels needed to power an electric car: so far, the team have managed to produce a prototype battery that offers the same kind of storage capabilities as a AA battery. But as with any new technology, the key to its development lies in its ability to scale well and its ability to do something that no-other product can do.

And it’s that final point which makes the 3D graphene battery such an intriguing prospect for future electric car use. By combining carbon fibre, or other super-strong structural elements, a 3D printed battery could be built which not only powers a car, but forms its chassis too. As 3D printing becomes more common and the methods used to develop 3D printed designs become commonplace, it’s conceivable we may even see a day where repair shops or specialists auto parts suppliers could print replacement energy-storing body panels, reducing the inconvenience of waiting for a specific replacement part to be shipped half-way around the world.

Like all future technology, 3D-printed graphene battery packs are a long way from being used in our cars — but as always, we’re keen to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes.

Who knows. Maybe one day, we’ll all be able to print our own electric car battery packs?

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