The printed electronics industry has given recognition to materials scientists at Harvard University for their work on novel 3D printed lithium-ion microbatteries — batteries no bigger than a grain of sand. The 3D printed microbatteries, which could supply electricity to tiny devices in fields from medicine to communications, received the Academic R&D Award last month at the IDTechEx Printed Electronics USA 2013 event in Santa Clara, California.
According to the award description, Lewis’ research team at Harvard “has printed rechargeable 3D Li-ion micro-batteries composed of high–aspect ratio anode and cathode micro-arrays that are interdigitated on a sub-millimeter scale, and exhibit amongst the highest area energy and power densities reported to date. These micro-batteries occupy volumes less than 1mm cubed—equivalent in size to a single grain of sand—and are 1000 times smaller than the smallest commercially available rechargeable batteries.”
The batteries have a range of autonomous applications, including biomedical devices, micro-UAVs and distributed sensor arrays.
3D micro-battery architecture
To create the micro-battery, a custom-built 3D printer extrudes special inks through a nozzle narrower than a human hair. Those inks solidify to create the battery’s anode (red) and cathode (purple), layer by layer. A case (green) then encloses the electrodes and the electrolyte solution is added to create a working micro-battery.