Manchester Metropolitan University is embarking on a project to 3D print “super batteries” from graphene ink.
Wonder material graphene has been widely talked about in terms of its suitability for use in batteries, due to its impressive conductivity, but scientists have struggled with the fact it also has a relatively small surface area, which affects capacity.
3D printing, where layers of graphene are assembled on top of one another, maximising surface area in the process, offers a solution. Now researchers at MMU are analysing techniques for printing with conductive graphene ink, in order to try and create batteries, supercapacitors and other energy storage devices with the help of a grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
“We’re trying to achieve a conductive ink that blends the fantastic properties of graphene with the ease of use of 3D printing to be manipulated into a structure that’s beneficial for batteries and supercapacitors,” explains Craig Banks, a professor of electrochemical and nanotechnology and leader of the three and a half-year project. The batteries and supercapacitors would be used to power phones and tablets, or for solar, wind and wave power storage.
“Energy storage systems (ESS) are critical to address climate change and, as clean energy is generated through a variety of ways, an efficient way to store this energy is required,” says Banks, whose work on graphene’s conductivity has been cited over 9,000 times, making him one the world’s most-cited scientists. “Lithium and sodium ion batteries and super/ultracapacitors are promising approaches to achieve this. This project will be utilising the reported benefits of graphene — it is more conductive than metal — and applying these into ESS.”
The combination of the conductivity from the graphene and the 3D nature of the structures, which have “high surface areas, good electrical properties and hierarchical pore structures/porous channels”, should increase the storage capabilities of batteries to meet future demands.
As well as working on the graphene ink, the 3D printing process also must be refined. It currently relies on each layer of graphene being left to “cure” for an hour before the next layer can be applied. Banks is hoping to find a method to speed this process up, perhaps by using UV light. “Ideally, we could have the brilliant scenario where you just plug in and go — printing whatever structure you want out of graphene from a machine on your desk,” he says.
Graphene was discovered in 2004 at the University of Manchester, which has recently become the home of the National Graphene Institute — a £61 million building to house the university’s groundbreaking work. This particular research will be taking place at MMU rather than at the University of Manchester, but it is yet another project that shows the city remains a world-renowned centre for research graphene.
by KATIE COLLINS | 10 AUGUST 15