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Using 3-D Printed Mother-of-Pearl to Create Tough New Smart Materials

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Monday, August 12, 2019

The silvery shine of mother-of-pearl has long been prized for jewelry and decorative arts. But the interior of mollusk shells, also known as nacre, is more than just a pretty face. It is actually one of the most robust materials in the natural world. You can drive over nacre with a truck, and while the mollusk shell might crack under the weight, the shiny interior will stay intact.



Professor in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the Center for Advanced Manufacturing, Yong Chen and his team have created a new 3-D-printed replica of this natural super-material, which will have important new applications in responsive smart materials and safety devices, such as helmets and armor for sports or military, as well as smart wearable technology, biomedical devices and more.

The work, which was recently published in Science Advances, also represents the first time that electrical fields were used in 3-D printing to form the material, meaning the finished product has strong electrical conductivity. This makes it ideal for smart products.

Chen and postdoctoral researcher Yang Yang worked on the paper with co-authors Qiming Wang, Assistant Professor in the Sonny Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Qifa Zhou, Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Engineering and others.

Chen said that in nature, the main purpose of a material like nacre is to protect a delicate, soft-bodied creature inside the shell.

“Nacre is strong because it stacks microscale and nanoscale components together in a brick-like structure and uses soft material to bind them together.”

Chen said the result was a very lightweight, robust material that was also far more responsive to pressure and loading compared with more rigid materials like ceramic and glass.

“Even very strong glass can be easy to crack when you drop it. Microcracks on the surface of these materials can quickly propagate all the way through it, whereas nacre combines soft and hard material in an intelligent way,” Chen said.

He said that when microcracks form in nacre, the soft material binding the nacre together works to deflect the force of impact and prevent cracks from propagating into more serious damage.

“The main motivation for this research was to see whether we could 3-D print any shape at a microscale, using the architecture of nacre combining both hard and soft materials, to achieve a much tougher structure.”

Replicating nacre with graphene and polymer
To do this, the team used a novel method to build synthetic nacre at a microscale using graphene powder as a building block. The researchers ran an electrical charge of around 1,000 volts through the graphene.

“Originally we had this randomly distributed graphene,” Chen said. “When you add it to the electrical field, these random grains of graphene are aligned parallel to each other.”

“Then we cure the material and finalize the layer. We then stack layer after layer on top so that it is similar in microstructure to nacre,” Chen said.

“We create a composite with polymer, which serves as the soft material inside and between the graphene.”

Chen said that previously nacre-like materials were formed using different approaches, such as magnetic fields to align the particles. After fabrication, the research team conducted material testing that showed the electrically-aligned product was lightweight with strong engineering properties.

He said that while naturally-formed nacre doesn’t conduct electricity, the 3-D printed bioinspired version can. As such, if it were used to fabricate protective material such as helmets or armor, the synthetic nacre can act as a sensor that alerts the wearer of any structural weaknesses before it fails.

The team tested the material by creating a small scale model of a smart helmet. The helmet functioned as a sensor connected to a LED light. When enough pressure was put on the helmet, the LED would be activated, indicating the material was under stress.

“Using the electrical-aligned approach leads to better alignment of the particles. It also means we can work with particles that react to an electrical field. When you use a magnetic field, then you can only work with a particle that reacts to that.”

Chen said that for the next stage of the research, the team would be investigating the new material’s capacity for thermal conductivity, in addition to its mechanical strength and ability to conduct electricity.

Tags:  3D Printing  Graphene  polymers  Qifa Zhou  USC Viterbi School of Engineering  Yong Chen 

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3D printable 2D materials based inks show promise to improve energy storage devices

Posted By Graphene Council, The Graphene Council, Sunday, August 11, 2019
Updated: Sunday, August 4, 2019
For the first time, a team of researchers, from the School of Materials and the National Graphene Institute at The the University of Manchester have formulated inks using the 2D material MXene, to produce 3D printed interdigitated electrodes.

As published in Advanced Materials, these inks have been used to 3D print electrodes that can be used in energy storages devices such as supercapacitors.

MXene, a ‘clay-like’ two-dimensional material composed of early transition metals (such as titanium) and carbon atoms, was first developed by Drexel University. However, unlike most clays, MXene shows high electrical conductivity upon drying and is hydrophilic, allowing them to be easily dispersed in aqueous suspensions and inks.

Graphene was the world’s first two-dimensional material, more conductive than copper, many more times stronger than steel, flexible, transparent and one million times thinner than the diameter of a human hair.

Since its isolation, graphene has opened the doors for the exploration of other two-dimensional materials, each with a range of different properties. However, in order to make use of these unique properties, 2D materials need to be efficiently integrated into devices and structures. The manufacturing approach and materials formulations are essential to realise this.

Dr Suelen Barg who led the team said: “We demonstrate that large MXene flakes spanning a few atoms thick, and water can be independently used to formulate inks with very specific viscoelastic behaviour for printing. These inks can be directly 3D printed into freestanding architectures over 20 layers tall. Due to the excellent electrical conductivity of MXene, we can employ our inks to directly 3D print current collector-free supercapacitors. The unique rheological properties combined with the sustainability of the approach open many opportunities to explore, especially in energy storage and applications requiring the functional properties of 2D MXene in customized 3D architectures.”

Wenji and Jae, PhD students at the Nano3D Lab at the University, said: “Additive manufacturing offers one possible method of building customised, multi-materials energy devices, demonstrating the capability to capture MXene’s potential for usage in energy applications. We hope this research will open avenues to fully unlock the potential of MXene for use in this field.”

The unique rheological properties combined with the sustainability of the approach open many opportunities to explore, especially in energy storage and applications requiring the functional properties of 2D MXene in customized 3D architectures. Dr Suelen Barg, School of Materials

The performance and application of these devices increasingly rely on the development and scalable manufacturing of innovative materials in order to enhance their performance.

Supercapacitors are devices that are able to produce massive amounts of power while using much less energy than conventional devices. There has been much work carried out on the use of 2D materials in these types of devices due to their excellent conductivity as well as having the potential to reduce the weight of the device.

Potential uses for these devices are for the automotive industry, such as in electric cars as well as for mobile phones and other electronics.

Tags:  2D materials  3D Printing  Drexel University  Graphene  Suelen Barg  Supercapacito  University of Manchester 

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Additive Manufacturing & 3D Printing with Graphene

Posted By Terrance Barkan, Friday, January 20, 2017

 

3d printing, also known as additive manufacturing (AM), represents significant potential for the use of graphene material as an additive to the fast growing range of printable materials. This is increasingly true as there is a clear shift towards producing functional parts for industrial end use, including aerospace and automotive applications. 

Despite being a relatively low volume market at the moment, AM has several useful properties than make it an attractive market to a graphene producer as well as to end users. The AM market has a strong appetite to test new materials and to identify innovative applications not just in the AM processes, but in the characteristics of the materials that are used. Rapid process and testing times for new products mean that there is also a low barrier to entry compared to supplying nano-enhanced materials in other manufacturing industries. 

Because traditional AM materials are often quite expensive on their own, adding a relatively expensive material like graphene has less of an impact on the final costs than it might in some other large scale commercial applications. 

One of the advantages of AM is the ability to make one-off or specialty parts with no loss in production speed. Parts are also essentially the same price regardless of whether you print a few or a few thousand pieces. 

Although there are a large number of different AM technologies, there are really just three formats of material, (powders, liquids and filaments) and there are three main classes of material (metals, plastics and ceramics). Graphene has the potential to add desirable characteristics across many of these technologies, formats and material classes. 

One of the most important materials in use with AM today is polymers. There is significant scope for graphene to gain traction and market share here as an additive, primarily due to the ease of processing graphene into polymers. Common thermoplastics used in sintering and extrusion AM techniques include  ABS, PLA, nylons (6 and 12), TPU, PET and HIPS. Thermosets such as epoxy and acrylics are also popular in UV cured AM applications. Despite the relatively difficult processing challenges for metals and ceramics, there is potential for graphene to also add value across those technologies.

Graphene has the ability to provide improvements to conventional AM materials and in some case, these material improvements are unique to graphene. In particular, graphene can have an impact on;


• Much lower solids content 
• Shift material into a printability window 
• Improve HDT and shrinkage 
• Mechanical reinforcement where certain macro additives can’t be used
• Significant multi-functionality (5+ uplifts with one additive) 

 

Essentially graphene is adding benefits to or improving on the performance of a given consumable as well as mitigating or reducing the negatives. Multifunctionality is also important; gaining multiple beneficial properties without resorting to using several additives that might be incompatible with each other and doing so with a low addition rate lowers the risk of adding negative performance into a polymer, such as lower processability or brittleness. 

3D Printing and AM is just another of the many areas where graphene is proving worthy of a much closer look by materials scientists, product designers, engineers and production specialist across a broad range of industries. 

 

Want to learn more? 

 

Join an in-depth Webinar on Graphene and 3D Printing

Tags:  3D Printing  Additive Manufacturing 

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Graphene Commercialization is closer than you think.

Posted By Terrance Barkan, Friday, October 21, 2016

When we conducted our survey of more than 400 graphene researchers, developers, producers and users earlier this year, less than 10% thought that graphene was a sustainable commercial market today. However, almost 2/3’s felt that graphene would develop into a sustainable commercial market in 6 years or less. (Survey 2016)

 

Based on the feedback and discussions at the Graphene Canada 2016 conference held in Montreal recently, graphene commercialization is a lot closer than most people are aware. 

 

Because graphene has properties that can be applied to such a wide range of potential applications, it is not always easy to see where this material is already being used or where development is most advanced. 

 

A graphene “killer application”?

 

There has been a lot of hype around graphene because of its superlative properties and the promise it holds for radical or revolutionary new applications, products and solutions.

 

There has been an equal measure of disappointment that it has not yet produced a “killer application”, a solution that solves a major problem that is possible because of graphene’s unique properties. 

 

The less sexy, but much more likely path to successful commercialization of graphene, lies in its use in more traditional materials like composites, thermosets (such as epoxies, polyurethane and polyester) and plastics. 

 

For example, Huntsman Advanced Materials (a division of the Huntsman Corporation, a publicly traded global manufacturer and marketer of differentiated chemicals with $10 billion in revenues) is working with graphene specialist firm Haydale to develop graphene enhanced ARALDITE® resins for composite applications. These products are used in the industrial composites, automotive and aerospace markets.

 

 

Huntsman's ARALDITE® resins are being enhanced using Haydale’s expertise in functionalisation of Graphene Nano Platelets (GNP’S) and other nano materials to create highly loaded master batches and to improve thermal / electrical conductivity and mechanical performance. The ultimate objective of the collaboration will be to commercialise graphene enhanced ARALDITE® resins for a range of applications in the

composites market.

 

It is telling that Huntsman, a company whose chemical products number in the thousands and are sold worldwide, has identified graphene as a critical new additive to enhance one of their most important industrial products. 

 

The global polymer market alone is worth at least $658 billion. Even if only a small percentage of this market begins using graphene as a standard additive to improve product performance, it will help support a viable market for graphene producers and formulators. 

 

Better Together

 

Additive Manufacturing, or 3D Printing, is a relatively new and exciting area of activity that is revolutionizing how objects are designed, prototyped and made. It is also a perfect example of how graphene can be used in combination with other traditional materials to create new capabilities and products. 

 

There are already three companies that offer graphene impregnated 3D printing filaments (Haydale, Graphene 3d Labs and Directa Plus) that are in turn letting creative designers develop products that are electrically conductive or that have superior physical properties (stronger, scratch resistant, better UV protections, etc.). 

 

Graphene is added to traditional polymers, paints and coatings to change their performance characteristics. Another company, NanoXplore is producing products as far ranging as specialty paints to fishing buoys (floats that are used in conjunction with fishing nets, crab pots, and related applications) that use graphene to make these products more robust and survivable in very harsh marine environments. 

 

 

What is unique about graphene is that it can make a significant improvement with very small loadings (as little as 1% or less) as compared to competing materials that may require as much as 25-30% loads to make significant performance differences. 

 

What this means is that although graphene materials are currently quite expensive per gram or kilogram, the very low loading levels makes graphene a competitive additive on a cost / benefit basis. 

 

The Future

 

It is difficult to overstate the enormous potential graphene holds to impact an almost unlimited range of industrial sectors, from water treatment to aerospace, from opto-electrical sensors to energy storage, from bio-medical applications to basic materials. 

 

So while university scientists and corporate research and development departments around the world continue to work on the more complicated problems where graphene might disrupt industries like semi-conductors or new generation photocells, graphene is proving its worth in somewhat mundane but equally important industrial materials applications. 

 

Tags:  3D Printing  Commercialization  Directa Plus  Fullerex  Graphene 3d Labs  Haydale  Huntsman  NanoXplore  Paints 

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