Can you use Graphene to 3D print with?
3D printing with Graphene is a very exciting prospect. It is a material which has some extraordinary properties, being the thinnest, strongest and most flexible material known to man.
But 3D printing pure Graphene is tricky. It’s technically only a single atom thick, meaning it is constantly 2D. To allow Graphene to become 3D, we either need to stack multiple layer together, or combine it with another substance.
The problem is, when you start combining single layers of Graphene together, they produce Graphite, which isn’t a great material to 3D print with.
Instead, many industry experts have tried combining Graphene with other substances, such as polymers found within 3D printing filaments.
Before we look at how companies are currently using Graphene in 3D printing, let’s take a quick look at what makes this material so special.
What exactly is Graphene?
Graphene is a form of carbon, which is currently the thinnest material that we know of, thanks to its single atomic layer. That means, Graphene is only a one atom thick.
Not only is it the thinnest material in existence, it is also extremely strong thanks to it hexagonal honeycomb lattice structure.
It has the unusual properties of being harder than diamond, about 200 times tougher than steel and more elastic than rubber. Graphene is not only the thinnest, most flexible material we know of, it’s also a fantastic conductor of electricity and heat.
It really is quite an outstanding material, and one which could be used to change our approach to constructing many items. It’s applications are almost endless, with many industry experts trying to untap this extraordinary material’s potential.
Who is currently 3D printing Graphene?
There are a few examples of companies and individuals trying to 3D print with Graphene, with some actually being quite successful.
G6 Materials / Graphene 3D Lab
G6 Materials is an American company, which was formerly known as Graphene 3D Lab. They specialise in producing Graphene-based solutions, which includes 3D printing.
Early prototypes from G6 Materials include creating a functioning battery from a filament containing Graphene. This filament would potentially allow 3D printer enthusiasts to actually print their own batteries using their own standard FDM 3D printer.
Imperial College London
Other research has been done by the Department of Materials at the Imperial College London, who have also utilised FDM printing. Their take wasn’t too dissimilar to that of G6 Materials. They created a unique filament which could be used with an FDM 3D printer.
They utilised Graphene flakes within a polymer which had some of the properties of Graphene, as well as being fully printable. When 3D printed and cured, under an extreme heat, the result was a fully-bonded 3D print.
This 3D print was extremely strong, and a great conductor, just like Graphene is in its raw form.
Using a different approach to the two above. A research team combined with researchers from Virginia Tech and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, have combined Graphene into a gel form.
This approach is much similar to SLA 3D printing, using a 3D printable gel with elements of Graphene incorporated. This allowed for very high-resolution 3D prints, with many of the properties of Graphene once cured.
All of the above techniques and research are still in early stages. And to this date, there still hasn’t been mass success with 3D printing Graphene. Successful research, like that of the Imperial College London, hasn’t resulted in a process which is scalable or capable of producing 3D printed objects of any real scale.
Graphene does have the potential to be a super material across multiple industries in the future. It has been prototyped into a 3D form by many companies, with a few highlights above. This means that the future of this impressive material is extremely bright.
It isn’t quite there yet, with the expansion into a fully 3D printable form not quite met. But, if any of the researchers who are currently exploring different methods are able to replicate their process’ on a larger scale. We could well all be 3D printing with Graphene on our own FDM or SLA 3D printers at some point in the future.