The search for ever smaller batteries to power our tiny gadgets continues and so does the search for new, innovative uses of 3D printing technologies. And when the two cross paths, interesting things are bound to happen.

U.S. scientists discovered a new application of 3D printing that was able to produce a sand grain sized battery. The lithium-ion battery is fully functional and could be successfully used to power various kinds of miniaturized devices, from medical implants to tiny robots.

Sand Grain Sized Battery 3D Printed

The printing technology consisted of producing stacks of tiny electrodes, each of them thinner than human hair and was developed by University of Illinois and Urbana-Champaign and Harvard University researchers.

The anodes and electrodes were created from two different kinds of electrochemically active and quick-hardening ink, printed through a hair-thin nozzle about 30 microns in diameter. Both components of the battery were built by printing successive layers of the ink on a surface shaped as a comb, much like stacking a deck of cards.

Due to this comb pattern, the anodes and cathodes were arranged face to face, while the electrodes in the teeth of the comb were interlaced. The entire assembly was then inserted into a small case with electrolyte solution. And the result is a fully-functional lithium-ion microbattery.

Unlike thin film batteries generally used to power tiny devices, this minute 3D printed battery is comparable in power and lifespan with commercial batteries, due to the electrode stack design.

3d printed microbattery

The image shoes the interlaced stack of electrodes printed layer by layer.

Researchers say this microbattery could be used to power all sorts of devices, with multiple applications, from communications to medicine, for the development of miniature medical implants or electronics.

This 3D printed battery could thus have a significant impact on the field of nanotechnology, which has often suffered setbacks because of the lack of small enough reliable power source. Nano devices that could benefit from the use of the sand grain sized battery include flying or ambulatory robot bugs, but also tiny microphones and cameras and other miniature electronic devices.

What do you think of the new 3D printed microbattery? What would you use it for?

[Images via Inhabitat & RSC]