As OEMs and other companies move forward with electric vehicle development, batteries are a sticky subject. They’re important, and they’ve come a long way, but everyone agrees that they need to improve. Naturally, how to improve them is a concept about which companies have a number of different approaches, depending on what aspect in particular they’re addressing.
One of these is 3D printing. That’s an avenue that a number of companies have been exploring for several years, according to writer Joris Peels at industry news site 3DPrint.com. From changing the basic structure and architecture of batteries to reducing the need for extremely scarce, expensive minerals, a number of companies have been exploring a range of possibilities for 3D-printed battery solutions for some time.
As of May 14, 2021, California-based company Sakuu announced that it plans to release its first multi-material, multi-process 3D printer to fabricate EV batteries from scratch. How soon? If everything goes according to plan, this industrial printer could roll out from Sakuu to its customers some time in Q4 of 2021.
It’s called Sakuu AM Platform, and the company says it will enable high-volume production of 3D printed solid-state batteries, not the lithium-ion ones that are much more commonly used in the current generation of EVs. Sakuu says its batteries—which it calls KeraCel—will require around 30 to 50 percent fewer materials to generate twice as much energy capacity as the currently-available competition. That all sounds good, of course, but a company can say anything it wants. The proof will, of course, be in the pudding if and when this technology and these batteries are in the hands of customers.
As far as sustainability goes, Sakuu also claims that its 3D printing process for making these SSBs is inherently more sustainable. While it uses both metal and ceramics in its printing processes—that's part of where the “multi-material” part of the printing process comes in—it does so in a way that makes it easy to separate the two. If you’ve ever worried about separating your recyclables by material, you can see the advantages that might have for conventional recycling programs.
Finally, Sakuu also says that these printers will be extremely agile, and able to print batteries to a wide variety of specifications. Different shapes and sizes will be possible—and customers will be able to print more than one type of battery with a given printer. Theoretically, they could print multiple batteries for multiple applications, across a range of vehicles.
“SSBs are a holy grail technology, but they are both very difficult and expensive to make. By harnessing the flexibility and efficiency-enhancing capabilities of our unique and scalable AM process, we’re enabling battery manufacturers and EV companies to overcome these fundamental pain points,” Sakuu Corporation founder, CEO, and chairman Robert Bagheri told 3DPrint.com.
“Furthermore, by adopting it as the technology of choice, these users also benefit from the wider opportunities our AM platform delivers, namely the ability to enjoy on-demand, localized production, which can help drive more efficient manufacturing operations and shorter supply chains,” he concluded.
The plan is to start with manufacturing batteries for two- and three-wheeled vehicles, and possibly some smaller four-wheeled vehicles as well. As with any new technology, there will likely be hiccups that need to be worked out along the way. Still, the only way anything moves forward is by trying something new, then refining and adjusting it as you go. Will this technology live up to its potential promise? We’ll just have to wait and see, as ever.