Researchers at Penn State University have recently developed a 3D printing technique for producing polymer membrane. This 3D printing will make it possible to prototype and test polymer membranes that are patterned for enhanced performance.
When 2D polymer membranes are adorned with 3D etchings, they take on a range of potentially useful hydrodynamic properties. Many of these properties could enhance the role of ion exchange membranes. These membranes are widely used in energy applications, such as fuel cells, water purification, desalination, removal of heavy metals and food processing.
“We thought if we could use 3-D printing to fabricate our custom-synthesized ion exchange membranes, we could make any sort of pattern and we could make it quickly,” Michael Hickner, associate professor of materials science and engineering at Penn State, mentioned in a news release.
Hickner and his fellow researchers developed a new 3D printing technique that builds on a light-based strategy called stereo lithography. The scientists concocted a mixture of ionic polymers that are sensitive to light. An initial layer is laid out and exposed to light to harden. A second layer is then selectively exposed to light and set to create a 3D pattern. Adding 3D etching in this manner can boost the conductivity of the ion exchange membranes by as much as three-fold. “Membranes act like a resistor in a battery or fuel cell,” Hickner explained.
Current methods for 3D etched polymer membranes are labor intensive and expensive, which isn’t conducive to experimentation.