The University of Texas at El Paso has joined a NASA-led project to leverage 3D printing processes in order to 3D print batteries from lunar and Martian soil, which is the top layer of materials covering the moon and Mars’ surfaces.
The $615,000 grant from UTEP is part of a $2.5 million project led by Youngstown State University (YSU), 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs, and ICON, the private sector company currently leading the NASA Mars Dune Alpha project, which aims to 3D print future Mars habitats.
“UTEP is a national leader in additive manufacturing for space applications. I congratulate the team of UTEP researchers involved in this important work. I am confident their work will add significant value to this project, getting us closer to a return to the moon and our first forays beyond.”– Kenith Meissner, Ph.D., dean of the UTEP College of Engineering
Project to 3D Print Batteries from Lunar and Martian Soil
The project’s long-term goal is to maximize the sustainability of future lunar and Martian missions for astronauts by reducing payload weight and dead volume. The use of locally available resources on the moon or Mars is critical for developing infrastructure such as habitation modules, power generation, and energy storage facilities.
“UTEP is a seminal partner in this NASA-led project with our long and deep heritage in additive manufacturing. UTEP’s reputation in 3D printing, material science and our state-of-the-art facilities were important factors in convincing our NASA partners to pursue this potentially transformative research – for space exploration but for terrestrial applications of batteries as well.”– Eric MacDonald, Ph.D., professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and associate dean in the UTEP College of Engineering
Shape-conformable batteries are complex 3D battery designs that outperform existing commercial batteries by filling the dimensions of objects. Such customized batteries are ideal for use in small spacecraft, portable power devices, robots, and large-scale power systems for moon and Mars habitat missions.
Batteries for Use on Earth
Another possible outcome of this research is the development of shape-conformable batteries for use on Earth. These batteries could be embedded in 3D-printed concrete walls and linked to solar panels to create compact, self-sustaining homes for disaster relief and developing countries.
Ana C. Martinez, Ph.D., postdoctoral researcher in the UTEP Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, and Sreeprasad Sreenivasan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, are also members of the UTEP team.
NASA, UTEP, and YSU will identify and work on the extraction of battery materials and precursors from lunar and Martian regolith during the project’s initial phase. For each component of the sodium-ion battery, the UTEP/YSU team has already developed and VPP 3D printed composite resin feedstocks (i.e., electrodes, electrolyte, current collector). NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Ames Research Center collaborated to create and ME 3D printed composite inks for the various battery components. The completed 3D-printed sodium-ion battery components are then electrochemically tested at UTEP and NASA’s Glenn Research Center.
About the University of Texas at El Paso: The University of Texas at El Paso is the nation’s premier Hispanic-serving university. It is located at the westernmost tip of Texas, where three states and two countries converge along the Rio Grande. UTEP is America’s only open-access, top-tier research university, with 169 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs.
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