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Danish boffins print fuel cells from HP 1000

DTU's fuel-cell printer

Danish boffins have hacked – comprehensively hacked, since the work involves extensive case-modding – an HP inkjet, turning it into a device that can print fuel cells.

The work was carried out at the Danish Technical University's Energy Conversion program, and creates solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs) without needing expensive processes like chemical vapour deposition or pulsed laser deposition.

Instead, the sub-$100 once-was-an-HP 1000 inkjet printer has been pulled apart and re-assembled to print 1 micron ceramic thin films. As the university says, “A continuous and dense 1.2 micrometer yttria stabilized zirconia layer has been fabricated with this process and it improved the fuel cell performance.”

In an SOFC, a fuel electrode oxidises to produce electricity. The DTU says their printer-based deposition is designed to replace tape casting – borrowed from the electronics industry, where a ceramic slurry creates components like ceramic capacitors – that's also used to create SOFCs.

As a first application, the “printer hack” work will make it easier for researchers to work on new cell types, since it's ideal for small, quick prototype runs.

DTU's fuel-cell printer

Danish Technical University's modified HP 1000.

However, the DTU researchers eventually believe the same technique could be scaled up to print manufacturing runs of SOFCs, “using significantly smaller amounts of materials than traditional manufacturing processes.”

To get around the inkjet printer's annoying habit of skipping pixels, the DTU approach is to run multiple deposition runs, which improved the cell efficiency but still kept its thickness below 10 microns.

Future work “will be focused on improving inks, printing more complex patterns and optimising the final process to enhance the printed layers characteristics such as substrate covering and surface profile”, according to researcher Christophe Gadea.

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