Researchers from Virginia Tech and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed a novel way to 3D print complex objects made of graphene.

Graphene is one of the highest-performing materials used in the battery and aerospace industries. Previously, researchers could only print graphene in 2D sheets or basic structures. Now, Virginia Tech engineers have collaborated on a project that allows them to 3D print graphene objects at a resolution an order of magnitude greater than ever before printed, which unlocks the ability to theoretically create any size or shape of graphene.

Due to its strength (graphene is one of the strongest materials on Earth) and high thermal and electricity conductivity, 3D-printed graphene objects could be highly valuable in industries, including batteries, aerospace, separation, heat management, sensors, and catalysis.

Graphene is one of the strongest materials on Earth

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms organised in a hexagonal lattice. When graphene sheets are neatly stacked on top of each other and formed into a three-dimensional shape, it becomes graphite, commonly known as the “lead” in pencils.

Because graphite is simply packed-together graphene, it has fairly poor mechanical properties. But if the graphene sheets are separated with air-filled pores, the three-dimensional structure can maintain its properties. This porous graphene structure is called a graphene aerogel.


Xiaoyu Rayne Zheng, assistant professor with the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Advanced Manufacturing and Metamaterials Lab at Virginia Tech, said: “Now a designer can design three-dimensional topology comprised of interconnected graphene sheets. This new design and manufacturing freedom will lead to optimisation of strength, conductivity, mass transport, strength, and weight density that are not achievable in graphene aerogels.”

Ryan Hensleigh, lead author of the article and now a third-year Macromolecular Science and Engineering Ph.D. student , said: “It’s a significant breakthrough compared to what’s been done. We can access pretty much any desired structure you want.”

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