California startup says 3D printing batteries could double capacity

Solid-state batteries could be more energy dense, safer and faster than current technology, but finding a way to make them commercially viable is a challenge. A company thinks 3D printing holds the answer.

In recent years, the lithium-ion batteries that power everything from smartphones to electric vehicles have seen huge improvements in safety and energy density. (a measure of the amount of energy they contain per pound). But progress is slowing and it seems likely we’ll have to move on to new battery designs if we’re to banish the gasoline-powered car from the history books.

Solid-state batteries, which replace the liquid electrolyte found in today’s cells with a solid electrolyte, are among the most promising near-term candidates.. They would not only make batteries safer by removing flammable liquid electrolyte, but could also increase energy density and enable faster charging.

A number of startups have developed promising prototypes, but are working to manufacture these types of sc batteries.the beer is a major challenge. Californiarnia-based startup Sakuú believe the answer is to use 3D printing, which would allow them to use space much more efficiently and therefore produce batteries with a much greater capacity than of their competitors.

Batteries are made up of three key components: a positive electrode called the anode, a negative electrode called the cathode, and an electrolyte that allows ions to move between the two. In today’s most advanced lithium-ion batteries, the electrodes are made using a production process known as “roll-to-roll” manufacturing.

The materials used to make each of the electrodes are mixed into a slurry, then smeared onto a long roll of metal foil before being dried. These long rolls are then cut into smaller sections and stacked on top of each other with a separator between each electrode. These stacks are placed in an enclosure which is then filled with liquid electrolyte.

Even new solid-state battery companies are offering to use the same production process, but Sakuú takes a completely different approach. She has created a 10 meter long multi-material printer that can work with both ceramics and metals. The machine first deposits patterns of powdered material before depositing a jet of polymeric binder which sticks the particles together. He then depositss conductive metal on top. These layers are stacked on top of each other other to produce cells.

The company Told The edge that the approach allows it to stack more layers in a given space than conventional approaches. On his websiteSakuú claims this is because its manufacturing process allows for thinner structural layers and a new stacked structure. This means it can either deliver 100% more capacity than current lithium-ion cells, or make batteries 50% smaller and 40% lighter.

Another cool benefit of using 3D printing is that it should be possible to build batteries in all sorts of different shapes, which is difficult with traditional roll-to-roll manufacturing. This could make it possible to integrate batteries into the structure of products rather than having to dedicate space to them.

It’s somethingbecame a major axis for the the electric vehicle industry, as companies attempt to increase the battery capacity of their vehicles without adding additional weight. Chinese battery maker Contemporary Amperex Technology and electric vehicle Leapmotor are working on ways to integrate batteries into car chassis, while Tesla says it has developed a new glue that will make its batteries load-bearing, allowing them to be used as structural parts.

The ability to 3D print batteries in a variety of shapes could accelerate this trend, but it will likely be some time before Sakuú batteries hit the road. While he Told The edge that each of her printers will eventually be able to produce around 40 megawatt hours of energy storage – the equivalent of 500 electric car batteries – so far she only has a prototype of her machine, and she only has not yet been used to make batteries.

However, if they can get their printers to work, it could give a boost to efforts to increase range and reliability of electric vehicles and push them further into the mainstream.

Image credit: Sakuu

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