Materials scientists at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, led by Bruce Dunn, who holds UCLA’s Nippon Sheet Glass Company Chair, and Morris Wang, along with colleagues at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, have been selected to receive another $900,000 grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE) – to demonstrate a new design and 3D printing process for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries.
The potential for 3D printed lithium batteries is enormous. At least, this is what the DOE believes – as shown by the department’s $2.4 million investment into researching the necessary technology, in only the past two months. At the end of June, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced a partnership with Ampcera, which would see the development of solvent-free Laser Powder Bed Fusion AM technologies for the fabrication of 3D structured lithium battery cathodes, funded by $1.5 million from the DOE.
Dunn is a professor of materials science and engineering at UCLA and, as of this month, the interim dean of the engineering school. Dunn will serve as the principal investigator of the project, which is part of a $57.9 million program to fund research into clean energy technologies. Wang, who is also a professor of materials science and engineering at UCLA, is the co-principal investigator.
The team’s goal is to improve lithium-ion batteries by increasing the available power, speeding up charging, and making them cheaper to manufacture while wasting less material in the process. 3D printing allows for the creation of a more intricate interior battery structure that can store more power – a development critical to the new manufacturing process.
Lithium-ion batteries, with their excellent energy-to-weight ratios, are already ubiquitous in phones, laptops, electric vehicles, and a range of other consumer products. However, there are limits to the power they can provide and how fast they can be charged, which will hopefully be stretched thanks to the scientists’ work.