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Novel Ceramic/Metallic Materials September 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Rory Marrast

Energy Applications of Printable Conductive Ink

Why is this topic significant?

MXenes are a class of highly conductive nanomaterials that can see use in a range of energy-storage applications. Researchers are currently using 3D printing to fabricate novel architectures of MXenes that serve in applications that require materials with high electrical conductivity.

Description

Increasing global energy consumption along with the continuing depletion of natural fuels and the growing consumer demand for efficient devices all require highly efficient energy-conversion and energy-storage devices to manage the supply and demand of energy. MXenes—two-dimensional ceramic materials that consist of carbides, nitrides, and carbonitrides—demonstrate water solubility, superior charge transfer, and storage capabilities and conductivity that exceed those of graphene.

Researchers at the School of Materials and the National Graphene Institute at the University of Manchester in England recently produced 3D printable inks from 2D MXenes. They combine titanium carbide MXene flakes that possess terminal hydrophilic groups with water to form ink with tailored viscoelectric (charge related to the viscosity of the liquid) properties specific to 3D printing. The researchers use this ink in a 3D printer to fabricate novel electrodes that can see use in energy-storage supercapacitors because of the material's metallic nature and very high surface area.

Other research groups are investigating the use of MXenes in energy applications. Researchers at Drexel University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) discovered MXenes in 2011 and currently pioneer the latest MXene research. The Drexel researchers recently collaborated with researchers at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland to create a one-step process for printing conductive MXene ink.

Implications

Fabricating novel energy-storage architectures using MXene ink enables engineers to integrate supercapacitor components into new products with varying geometric requirements—for example, electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles. However, commercial application of the electrode-printing technology is some way off. The Drexel University researchers expect MXene electrodes to reach the commercial market within the next decade. Key advances will come from new MXene elemental combinations with enhanced structures and functions. Artificial-intelligence and machine-learning techniques are likely to play a role in helping materials scientists to calculate all possible elemental combinations of MXene, without the requirement to fabricate every potential candidate.

Impacts/Disruptions

MXene ink could revolutionize customized multimaterials energy devices via 3D printing using multimaterial 3D printers and nanomanufacturing techniques. Players in the renewable-energy sector constantly seek out supercapacitor systems that maintain optimal operating conditions. The growing shift toward renewable-energy technologies will favor the manufacture of next-generation energy materials. However, competing materials—for example, graphene—have many more years of research and extensive industrial backing behind them. Although MXenes demonstrate superior conductivity, a low cost of fabricating MXenes will be necessary to enable them to compete with graphene on a commercial scale.

MXenes could also find use in other energy-related applications. Researchers at Harvard University in Massachusetts are investigating the use of MXenes as thermoelectric systems to gather lost energy. Such systems could see use in car-exhaust systems and in brake disc pads to regain the lost thermal energy for subsequent conversion to another energy form for immediate use or storage.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Energy materials, manufacturing, electric vehicles

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Solid-State Magnetic Cooling

Why is this topic significant?

Current cooling devices make use of environmentally harmful refrigerating agents and consume a lot of energy. Magnetic cooling can offer similar cooling effects while reducing the ongoing energy costs that are necessary to run the devices.

Description

Researchers at the Laboratory of Novel Magnetic Materials at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federation University in Kaliningrad, Russia, recently reported the highest experimentally recorded value for a temperature change of 15 kelvins in a solid-state magnetic-cooling scenario using a manganese arsenate alloy. The researchers exploit the magnetocaloric effect—changes in the surrounding magnetic field that lead to temperature changes—within the material to change the temperature of the material.

The researchers introduced the magnetic alloy into an applied magnetic field, which caused the alloy to lose its thermal energy to its surroundings. Removing the applied magnetic field disorders the electrons as they reabsorb surrounding thermal energy, resulting in a lowering of the temperature of the material's surroundings.

Researchers at the University of Maryland in Baltimore have produced Terfenol-D (a solid-state structure composed of iron and terbium) that exhibits an ultralow field-cooling effect. Terfenol-D combines a magnetocaloric material with an elastocaloric (retracts upon removal of a magnetic field) material, which enables very weak magnetic fields to induce meaningful temperature changes in the material.

Implications

Choice of chemical refrigerants has undergone substantial change since scientists' understanding of their damage to the ozone layer and consequential effect on global warming. Under legislative regulations, perfluorocarbons and hydrofluorocarbons replaced chlorofluorocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons, but they too are subject to prohibition discussions. Alternative chemical refrigerants such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, and nonhalogenated hydrocarbons have lesser global-warming potential. Even tighter environmental legislation and enforcement are likely to reduce the use of chemical refrigerants further in favor of commercially viable magnetic-cooling devices.

Cooltech Applications (Holtzheim, France) launched the world's first commercial magnetic-refrigeration device in 2016. It offers an alternative to conventional refrigerators that use chemical refrigerants to cool devices. These magnetic-refrigeration devices reduce energy costs in comparison with the costs of conventional refrigerators. The current lifetime cost of consumer-grade magnetic refrigerators is directly comparable with the cost of current refrigerators. Additionally, recuperating the cost of the magnet at the end of life can make the overall lifetime cost of the magnetic refrigerator cheaper than that of conventional devices. The price of sourcing and manufacturing materials that generate high-power magnetic fields for industrial cooling applications is the single biggest cost for production, leading to manufacturers' exploring materials with low-cost global availability.

Impacts/Disruptions

Further commercialization of magnetic-refrigeration devices will increase the demand for metals that are permanent magnets. Many rare-earth metals, such as terbium and dysprosium, exhibit suitable magnetic characteristics, and their current availability and cost do not limit widespread commercialization of the technology to industrial applications. Successful research and development of readily available alloys that display the correct magnetic attributes will drive possible breakthroughs for the application of magnetic-cooling technology into refrigeration systems from air-conditioning to consumer-refrigeration equipment.

Demand for air conditioning and every other application of cooling in use to today can only grow proportionally with increasing global temperature. However, a solution to the demand that exacerbates the underlying problem is clearly unsustainable. Therefore, expect focused technical developments and commercial competition of all forms of cooling technologies, whether they use chemical refrigerants or permanent magnets.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years to 15 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Refrigeration, temperature regulation, magnetism, climate change

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: