First fully 3D printed energy storage devices: the last piece of the puzzle


3D printed batteries and sensors can now be created on-demand, anywhere in the world

Pumera, M. et al.: 3D-printed Ag/AgCl pseudo-reference electrodes Electrochemistry Communications (2019)

For the first time, researchers have outlined how to fully 3D print batteries and sensors. The method, published in Electrochemistry Communications, paves the way for the design and fabrication of cheaper, higher-performing and ubiquitously available devices. These devices will also no longer need to contribute to emissions associated with transportation.

"Our new technique means that, finally, all parts of energy storage and sensing devices can be 3D printed," says Martin Pumera at the University of Chemistry and Technology in Prague, Czech Republic.

The joy of 3D printing is that it allows products to be made locally, where and when they are needed. All that is required is a 3D printer, the right raw materials and designs that can be downloaded from the internet. Production is accessible, customizable and rapid. In the long term, 3D printing could also slash carbon emissions associated with product transportation.

3d printer
3D printed energy storage devices. Credit: Filip Novotny, Pumera Group

Recently, there has been great interest in on-demand, customized fabrication of electrochemical devices, like batteries and sensors, particularly to improve access to these devices worldwide. However, it was not possible to 3D print all of the parts, with the major missing piece of the puzzle being the reference electrode.

A reference electrode is necessary for a battery or sensor to work. It measures and controls the potential of the working electrode. The most simple and frequently used reference electrodes are silver-silver chloride (Ag/AgCl). Pumera's team has now developed a straightforward, fast and simple way to 3D print them.

To create the 3D printed Ag/AgCl electrode, the researchers used a 3D printer to first produce a reference electrode “blueprint” out of graphene/polylactic acid (PLA) filaments. They then deposited silver onto this through electrodeposition. Finally, they dipped the silver electrodes in chlorine bleach to create 3D printed Ag/AgCl electrodes.

The team carried out measurements to show that the potential of their 3D printed reference electrode is both stable and reproducible, meaning it can be successfully used in devices.

"Traditionally, energy device development is a cumbersome effort," Pumera explains. "Using our technology, rapid prototyping and on demand manufacturing of batteries or sensors changes the game."