We here at DVICE are huge fans of 3D printing. And why wouldn't we be? You can print guns, underwear and even human flesh. Still, even fans like us can admit to real-life plot holes. In the case of 3D printing, it was that electronics required non-printed parts to function. Namely, batteries couldn't be printed.
Harvard’s Jennifer Lewis is working toward fixing that plot hole by working toward a day when we can print electronic components, batteries included. The first step is making inks that can solidify into electronic components. This isn’t your traditional squid ink, no sir. Instead, lithium titanium oxide, deionized water, and ethylene glycol are mixed together with ceramic balls, then the whole thing is spun for 24 hours. The balls break up particle clumps and allow the mixture to blend evenly.
After that, the mixture is put into a custom-made syringe, which, guided by the 3D printer, can create incredibly intricate patterns of the mixture. Once outside of the syringe, it again solidifies. Slowly but surely, this solidified "ink" builds a battery’s cathode.
Using one syringe, a 3D printer can make a battery in a number of minutes. Most printers could conceivably use hundreds of these nozzles. You do the math. It’s fairly amazing.
At present, Lewis’s group has eight patents for the inks and hopes to commercialize the technology in the next few years.
It’s at that point that 3D printing could deliver on its promise: the ability to create something like a hearing aid or a computer component at home (in minutes, even) is what people imagine when thinking about 3D printing. This could actually make that a possibility. It could also lead to more complicated electronics, in time. Lost your remote control? Print one. Need a new set of headphones? No problem. I see a future of printed iPod knockoffs, and it’s beautiful.