Innovative Solutions: 3D Printing Copper Atoms with Electroplating

By on December 21st, 2022 in news, research

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Microscopic copper structures 3D printed with electroplating [Source: UOL / Julian Hengsteler, ETH Zurich]

Researchers have developed the incredible ability to 3D print copper at atomic scales.

A team of researchers from several institutions has been working on the new 3D printing process, which uses the principle of electroplating.

Electroplating is the process of depositing metal from a saline solution onto an oppositely-charged object. It’s a well-understood technology that has been around for decades and widely used in industry.

However, traditional electroplating is an “all or none” process where an object is dipped into a solution and entirely coated with the metal when complete.

How could you 3D print with electroplating?

Their solution is ingenious:

  • A saline solution containing dissolved copper is prepared
  • The solution is dripped out through a very tiny nozzle
  • The drips land on an surface with opposite charge
  • The drips gradually build up material
  • By moving the nozzle around in 3D space, it’s possible to build 3D objects in copper

One of the immediate issues with this approach is that the nozzle would be rapidly clogged with solidified copper deposits. However, the researchers figured out an approach to avoid clogs. They simply monitored the electrical current very precisely, and using that they avoided moving the nozzle too close to the solidification action.

They were able to avoid clogs and proceed with 3D motion to print objects. They were able to reproduce spirals, inclines and horizontal structures, which are just about all you need to construct useful objects.

The most interesting aspect is the size of the operation: it’s microscopic.

The nozzles used ranged in orifice diameter from 253nm to only 1.6nm. For reference, 1.6nm is 0.0000016mm, about 60,000X smaller than your typical 3D printer resolution. In fact, their depositions were only 25nm wide, which is about 195 copper ATOMS lined up.


What could this be used for? The construction of very tiny copper components, and it appears a very good use could be to 3D print highly complex fluid components. Team member Dr. Dmitry Momotenko explains:

“The technology we are working on combines both worlds – metal printing and nanoscale precision. For example, interfaces processed with 3D printing could be used as catalysts for the production of complex chemicals.”

As fluids pass through these 3D printed objects, chemical reactions can occur. Such components could be made extraordinarily small, enabling their use in applications currently unimagined.

One possible use for the technology could be in battery tech. Battery effectiveness usually depends on the surface area of the electrodes, and by using this technology it might be possible to 3D print highly complex battery electrodes at the microscopic scale.

Via UOL (Deutsche)

By Kerry Stevenson

Kerry Stevenson, aka "General Fabb" has written over 8,000 stories on 3D printing at Fabbaloo since he launched the venture in 2007, with an intention to promote and grow the incredible technology of 3D printing across the world. So far, it seems to be working!

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