3D printed ‘super batteries’ from graphene ink!


‘Super batteries’ to be 3D printed from graphene ink

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.



First 3D printed laptop

Thanks to the massive support that it received on Indiegogo, it looks like we’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more about 3D-printed laptops very soon! 🙂


With just 68 hours till the deadline, the world’s first 3D-printed Raspberry Pi laptop, Pi-Top, has already smashed its Indiegogo campaign target, racking up a whopping $129,000 (£81,000).

What makes Pi-Top stand out is that it fuses a Printed Circuit Board (PCB) design and 3D printing — a combination that endows you with the prerequisite know-how to create your own hardware product, according to its creators.

The main aim of the project is to make “hardware as accessible as software,” so the brains behind this 3D-printed laptop want to make their product as beginner-friendly as possible.

With that in mind, the creators — a group of studentengineers from various UK universities — have ensured that anybody can make the kit in an evening.

Creativity is also key to the product as Pi-Top aims to provide a platform on which you can hone your computing skills and learn to code your own hardware. What’s more, as learning through gaming has become a big thing these days, Pi-Top wants its consumers to take part in that trend. The makers state on their Indiegogo page that, “a gamified learning experience will take you to a stage where you are designing your own components and products”.

While the Pi-Top boasts versatility through its customisable design, whereby you can 3D-print your own 5″ x 5″ case, the product’s not just about the appearance. The makers want you to “learn how to make and control home automation devices, robots, and consumer electronics,” and they’ve also toured the UK, imparting their technological skills to UK pupils.


3D printed military grade drones

The future US military drones look like they’re going to have a completely 3D-printed body and an Android phone for a brain. All for just $2500 a pop, with a wait of just over a day!


We have 3D printed keysguns and shoes — now a research team at the University of Virginia has created a 3D printed UAV drone for the Department of Defense.

In the works for three years, the aircraft, no bigger than a remote-controlled plane, can carry a 1.5-pound payload. If it crashes or needs a design tweak for a new mission, another one can be printed out in a little more than a day, for just $2,500 (£1533). It’s made with off-the-shelf parts and has an Android phone for a brain.

“We weren’t sure you could make anything lightweight and strong enough to fly,” says David Sheffler, who led the project. Sheffler is a former engineer for Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce who now teaches at the university. After he created a 3D printed jet engine in one of his classes, the MITRE Corporation, a DoD contractor, asked him to create a 3D printed UAV that could be easily modified and built with readily available parts.

The first prototype, the orange and blue model seen in the video above, was based on a conventional radio-controlled (RC) aircraft made of balsa wood, which is much lighter and stronger than the ABS plastic used in the university’s 3D printers. The same plane made of plastic would have weighed five times as much as the wood version. “You’re printing out of a material that’s really not well-suited to making an airplane,” Sheffler explains. On top of that, the way 3D printing works –building things in layers — led to structural weaknesses in the aircraft.

To account for those downsides, Sheffler’s team reworked the design. They settled on a “flying wing” design, in which the whole aircraft is basically one big wing, and called it the Razor. The latest (third) prototype is made of nine printed parts that click together like Lego. The centre of the plane is all one piece, with a removable hatch that offers access the inner cargo bay. All of the electronics live in there, including a Google Nexus 5 smartphone running a custom-designed avionics app that controls the plane, and an RC-plane autopilot that manages the control surfaces with input from the phone. The Razor’s wing structure is one piece, with an aileron, winglets, and mount for the small jet engine that clip on.

The aircraft, with a four-foot wingspan, weighs just 1.8 pounds. Loaded with all the electronics gear, it comes in at just under 6 pounds. That lets it fly at 40 mph for as long as 45 minutes, though the team’s working to get that up to an hour. An earlier prototype could top 100 mph, and the team believes the plane could hit 120 mph, at the cost of a very quickly drained battery.

It can carry 1.5 pounds, so attaching a camera to it would be no problem. The batteries take two hours to fully charge and are easily swapped out, so if you’ve got three or four packs on hand, the Razor can be in the air nearly continuously. The plane can be controlled from up to a mile away, or fly on its own using preloaded GPS waypoints to navigate. The team uses the Nexus smartphone’s 4G LTE as well, meaning commands could be sent from much farther away, though FAA guidelines have kept them from long-distance testing.

Here’s where the 3D printing really comes in handy: The design can be modified — and reprinted — easily, to be bigger or smaller, carry a sensor or a camera, or fly slower or faster. The plane can be made in 31 hours, with materials that cost $800 (£490.75). Electronics (like the tablet-based ground station) push the price to about $2,500 (£1,533). That’s so cheap, it’s effectively disposable, especially since you can make another one anywhere you can put a 3D printer. If one version is flawed or destroyed, you can just crank out another.

Though the team’s research contract has run out, they’re hoping to get another one next year. If Sheffler’s right about how the technology will evolve, MITRE and the DoD would be wise to extend the partnership. “3D printing is at the phase where personal computers were in the 1980s,” Sheffler says. “The technology is almost unbounded.”

“This program was really tasked with showing what is possible.”