The Project to Manufacture 3D Printed Batteries Out of Lunar and Martian Regolith

Published on March 27, 2023 by Madeleine P.
3D Printed Batteries

It has been fifty years since the last crewed moon landing, but that does not mean that humanity’s desire to reach for the stars (or planetary bodies) has lessened. In fact, in recent years it seems that we have seen an almost resurgence in efforts to not only reach other parts of our Solar System but to ultimately conquer it. And additive manufacturing has been at the forefront of those efforts. In fact, just last week, it was announced that the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) has become part of a project to maximize the sustainability of astronauts’ future lunar and Martian missions. It was awarded $615,000 to leverage 3D printing to learn how to manufacture rechargeable batteries out of lunar and Martian regolith.

As mentioned, this project is part of a larger one that aims to make it possible not only to go back to the moon and even Mars, but to possibly support human operations once we are there. The key to this is, of course, reducing payload weight and dead volume, something for which 3D printing is uniquely suited, in more ways than one. Notably, in this case, its ability to easily manufacture locally is actually the main benefit at play. Through 3D printing, it could be possible to develop infrastructure including habitation modules, power generation and energy storage facilities on the moon or Mars. This latest project focuses specifically on power generation, as the scientists are charged with creating the batteries needed to power small spacecraft, portable power devices, robots, and large-scale power systems on other planetary bodies.

NASA is looking into how 3D printing could be used for various projects in space exploration, including these batteries but also 3D printed homes on the moon and Mars (photo credits: NASA)

3D Printing Batteries in Outer Space

UTEP’s work will be part of a larger $2.5 million project that includes Youngstown State University (YSU), 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs, as well as ICON. And already progress has been made by both UTEP and NASA researchers, as shown in a recently publishing article from the American Chemical Society, “What Would Battery Manufacturing on the Moons and Mars Look Like?” Specifically, it seems that two different 3D printing processes, material extrusion (ME) and vat photopolymerization (VPP), are being investigated to produce shape-conformable batteries, complex 3D battery designs that outperform existing commercial batteries, on these bodies.

Alexis Maurel, Ph.D., French Fulbright Scholar in the UTEP Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, further explains: “This project with NASA is an opportunity to demonstrate UTEP’s expertise in both energy storage and 3D printing. Additive manufacturing appears as a unique approach to manufacture shape-conformable batteries to support human operations in space and on the surface of the moon or Mars, where cargo resupply is not as readily available.”

Furthermore, these batteries will be a little different from those we are used to seeing on Earth. Lithium-ion batteries are the ones that are most used, but this would not be viable on either the moon or Mars because lithium is scare in the soil. Rather, the researchers are focusing on the development of sodium-ion batteries since sodium is much more abundant. Additionally, one of the first steps of the project will be the extraction of battery materials and precursors from lunar and Martian regolith. Although, the UTEP/YSU team has already developed composite resin feedstocks for each part of the sodium-ion battery (for VPP). At the same time, the team at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Ames Research Center have developed 3D printed composite inks which would be used in material extrusion.

UTEP will be playing a key role in leveraging 3D printing to create rechargeable batteries using lunar and Martian regolith (photo credits: The University of Texas at El Paso)

In any case, it is certainly interesting to see the many innovative ways that 3D printing is being used to help humanity explore space. Moreover, as UTEP itself mentions, the batteries could also be used for applications right here on Earth. For example, allowing them to be embedded in 3D printed concrete walls and connected to solar generation for the creation of compact, self-sustaining homes for disaster responses and in developing countries. In any case, you can find out more about how the teams are seeking to 3D print these batteries using regolith in the publication HERE.

What do you think of this grant to 3D print batteries from lunar and Martian soil? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here, the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

*Cover Photo Credits: JR Hernandez / UTEP Marketing and Communications

One comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

  1. Robby Smink says:

    It’s all BS. We’ve never been to the moon. NASA has admitted that they “lost the technology” to go back and Buzz Aldren is on uTube and Tic Tok stating it was all a Hoax. You can google him, I saw it again just yesterday. NOTHING MAN MADA CAN EVER SURVIVE PASSING THRU THE 25,000 MILES OF THE vAN ALLAN rADIATION bELT THAT SURROUNDS THE eARTH.

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