Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are a necessity in today’s ecosystem of mobile devices, but making them is actually rather difficult. As with all batteries, they require an electrolyte and two electrodes — the cathode and anode, which all needs to be encased. To make lithium-ion batteries at an affordable price, many thousands or millions identical units need to be produced, which limits their form factors. But, researchers from the University of Chicago College of Engineering have developed a new fabrication method that allows for a variety of form factors, while simultaneously improving performance.
Their fabrication technique utilizes 3D printing to produce both the electrolyte and the cathode and anode. Traditionally, those are manufactured separately and combined inside a casing in a controlled environment, and then chemically processed. In the world of mass production, more steps equals more money, and any changes to an established manufacturing process is an expensive endeavor.
This new lithium-ion battery production method integrates all of those steps into a single process. That’s possible because the batteries are printed at a high temperature, which prevents the electrolyte shrinkage that’s associated with traditional chemical processing. And, because it’s done with 3D printing, the batteries can be redesigned on the fly. A battery with an unusual form factor can be produced just as easily as a common one. In addition to the simplified manufacturing, the batteries perform better. The unique high-temperature printing process increases the charge and discharge capacity, and overall performance.