Energy - Manufacturing

Scientists offer an inkjet printing technology to make compact, flexible battery elements

Researchers propose printing electrodes for lithium-ion batteries on an inkjet printer, which will reduce the electrodes’ thickness by 10-20 times.

Image Credit: Tyler Franta on Unsplash

Advancements in battery technology have been the focal point of many research groups over the last several decades, not only for large-scale energy storage applications, but for powering electronic devices such as smart phones, tablets, and computers.

Now, a team from ITMO University, Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, and the Ioffe Institute propose a new method of manufacturing electrodes for lithium-ion batteries using an inkjet printer. The team says this will reduce the electrodes’ thickness by 10-20 times and open up new possibilities to manufacture compact electronics. Their article has been published in the journal Energy Technology.

But how does one print lighter components that pack the same punch? According to the team, today’s manufacturing processes do not allow for a significant increase in a battery’s weight or size without sacrificing capacity. Therefore, a change in production is needed.

A wide range of printable solvents and colloidal inks make the inkjet printing technique a promising alternative to conventional methods of fabrication of thin‐film lithium-ion batteries.

“We’ve developed the ink for inkjet printing of the cathode material,” says Denis Kolchanov, a PhD student at ITMO’s SCAMT Laboratory who co-authored the article. “We’ve managed to apply a layer of about 5 micrometers in thickness on the current collector. Existing industrial samples use cathode materials with a thickness of 100 micrometers. Laboratory samples created on the basis of other technologies give a thickness of 50 micrometers. Therefore, we were able to reduce the thickness by 10-20 times. It’s not possible to make an ever smaller layer with this technology, because a short circuit will occur.”

This new technology will allow scientists to print ultra-thin, flexible batteries that do no deform when they are bent. To achieve this, “the modification of crystalline lattice of Li‐rich cathode material by aluminium, sodium, and potassium and their influence on power efficiency [was] studied in detail. Lithium‐manganese‐rich compounds [were] chosen as the most suitable composition of an active component for fabrication.”

After creating stable aqueous colloidal inks, the researchers demonstrated the operability of thier printed cathode material, confirming the feasibility of inkjet printing as a technological approach to thin-film batteries.

“This is important because today, hi-tech companies face a difficult task: on the one hand, users want their gadgets to be lightweight and compact, while on the other, they enjoy watching pictures and videos from as large a screen as possible. Apart from that, there is a growing demand for transformer devices that can be used both as tablets and laptops. Foldable and extendable gadgets are designed to solve these problems,” stated the researchers in a press release.

“In theory, our development can be used to create such devices,” explains Denis Kolchanov. “There is a huge possibility that thin electrodes will be more flexible since they will not deform when bent. This will allow us to use them in transformer devices.”

Research article available at: D.S. Kolchanov, et al. Energy Technology, 2019, doi.org/10.1002/ente.201901086

Quotes adapted from original press release

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