Patents that use graphene for 3D printing are proliferating, as exemplified by yet another application this week, from Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL). A quick patent database search reveals hundreds of patents and applications for printed 3D graphene structures. The most common use of graphene in 3D printers is as part of the ink itself, where it features as a conductive structural element.
Graphene, a highly conductive thin form of graphite, is emerging as a nearly ideal platform for applications ranging from flexible touchscreens and hydrogen fuel cell catalysts to next-gen battery electrodes and water desalination membranes. In the 3D printing world, graphene uses its electrical conductivity and mechanical flexibility to feature in applications such as printed flexible electronics, a multi-billion dollar industry.
The most recent patent application employs graphene oxide, a form of graphene easily obtainable in large volumes, for 3D printing an aerogel. Aerogels are porous solid materials with extreme light weight, generally used for thermal insulation in the construction industry. Nanoporous aerogels are excellent candidates for catalysis materials, as the reagent can freely flow through the pores, which greatly increases the reactive surface, resulting in high reaction efficiency. The LLNL application is likely to be used in a new generation of batteries, with the graphene aerogel acting as an electrode or catalyst.
Photo: Graphene aerogel