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Need more energy storage? Just hit 'print'

A new type of ink for an inkjet printer holds promise for printing flexible energy storage components.

Researchers from Drexel University and Trinity College in Ireland developed the ink from a highly conductive, carbon-based 2D material called MXene.

It has been suggested from recent findings that the ink can be used to print flexible energy storage components, such as supercapacitors, in any size or shape.

Conductive inks are already being used to make the radio frequency identification tags used in highway toll transponders, circuit boards in portable electronics and it lines car windows as embedded radio antennas and to aid defrosting. But for the technology to see broader use, conductive inks need to become more conductive and more easily applied to a range of surfaces.

The researchers believes that the ink created in Drexel’s Nanomaterials Institute is a significant advancement on both of these fronts.

While researchers are steadily figuring out ways to make inks from new, more conductive materials, like nanoparticle silver, graphene and gallium, the challenge remains incorporating them seamlessly into manufacturing processes. Most of these inks can’t be used in a one-step process, according to Babak Anasori, a research assistant professor at Drexel.

“For most other nano inks, an additive is required to hold the particles together and allow for high-quality printing. Because of this, after printing, an additional step is required — usually a thermal or chemical treatment — to remove that additive,” Prof. Anasori said. “For MXene printing, we only use MXene in water or MXene in an organic solution to make the ink. This means it can dry without any additional steps.”

MXenes have the unique ability to mix with liquids, like water and other organic solvents, while retaining their conductive properties. Because of this, Drexel researchers have produced and tested it in a variety of forms, from conductive clay to a coating for electromagnetic interference shielding to a near-invisible wireless antenna.

Adjusting the concentration to create ink for use in a commercial printer was a matter of time and iteration. The solvent and MXene concentration in the ink can be adjusted to suit different kinds of printers.

As part of the study, the team put the MXene ink to the test in a series of printouts, including a simple circuit, a mirco-supercapacitor and some text, on substrates ranging from paper to plastic to glass. In doing so, they found that they could print lines of consistent thickness and that the ink’s ability to pass an electric current varied with its thickness — both important factors in manufacturing electronics components. And the printouts maintained their superior electric conductivity, which is the highest among all carbon-based conductive inks, including carbon nanotubes and graphene.

This all amounts to a very versatile product for making the tiny components that perform important, but often overlooked functions in our electronics devices — jobs like keeping the power on when the battery dies, preventing damaging electrical surges, or speeding the charging process. Providing a higher-performing material and a new way to build things with it could lead not only to improvements to our current devices, but also the creation of entirely new technologies.

“Compared to conventional manufacturing protocols, direct ink printing techniques, such as inkjet printing and extrusion printing, allow digital and additive patterning, customisation, reduction in material waste, scalability and rapid production,” Anasori said. “Now that we have produced a MXene ink that can be applied via this technique, we’re looking at a world of new opportunities to use it.”

Author
Bethan Grylls

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