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3D-printed graphene aerogels improve energy storage

23 April 2015

A new type of 3D-printed graphene aerogel holds promise for better energy storage, sensors, nanoelectronics, catalysis and separations.

Lawrence Livermore researchers have made graphene aerogel microlattices with an engineered architecture via a 3D printing technique known as direct ink writing (photo: Ryan Chen/LLNL)

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers have made graphene aerogel microlattices with an engineered architecture via a 3D printing technique known as direct ink writing. Aerogel is a synthetic, porous, ultralight material derived from a gel, in which the liquid component of the gel has been replaced with a gas.

The 3D printed graphene aerogels have high surface area, excellent electrical conductivity, are lightweight, have mechanical stiffness and exhibit supercompressibility (up to 90 percent compressive strain). In addition, the 3D printed graphene aerogel microlattices show an order of magnitude improvement over bulk graphene materials and much better mass transport.

Previous attempts at creating bulk graphene aerogels produced a largely random pore structure, excluding the ability to tailor transport and other mechanical properties of the material for specific applications such as separations, flow batteries and pressure sensors.

“Making graphene aerogels with tailored macro-architectures for specific applications with a controllable and scalable assembly method remains a significant challenge that we were able to tackle,” says Marcus Worsley, co-author of a paper describing the research, published in the April 22 edition of Nature Communications.

“3D printing allows one to intelligently design the pore structure of the aerogel, permitting control over mass transport [aerogels typically require high pressure gradients to drive mass transport through them due to small, tortuous pore structure] and optimisation of physical properties, such as stiffness. This development should open up the design space for using aerogels in novel and creative applications.” 

During the process, the graphene oxide (GO) inks are prepared by combining an aqueous GO suspension and silica filler to form a homogenous, highly viscous ink. These GO inks are then loaded into a syringe barrel and extruded through a micro-nozzle to pattern 3D structures.

“Adapting the 3D printing technique to aerogels makes it possible to fabricate countless complex aerogel architectures for applications such as mechanical properties and compressibility, which has never been achieved before, ” adds paper co-author, Cheng Zhu.






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