INTERVIEW: How do you 3D print a battery? Arwed Niestroj, Sakuu

Sakuu, a California-based manufacturing company, has opened its new Silicon Valley engineering hub. The opening advances Sakuu’s plans for a “3D printing platform gigafactory, dubbed Sakuu G-One”. 

But how and why would 3D print a battery? I asked Arwed Niestroj’s, Sakuu’s General Manager Battery Business Unit, to answer a few questions.

The new building spans 79,000 square feet and serves as an engineering hub where teams are dedicated to battery, engineering, material science, R&D, and additive manufacturing work. The facility will contain the scaled-up 3D printing operations for battery production and additional manufacturing platforms for medical devices, IoT sensors, and other electrical devices. Sakuu says all manufacturing is conducted in a sustainable manner. 

Speaking about the opening, CEO Robert Bagheri said, “Sakuu is committed to building an extremely talented workforce that wants to be part of our reinvention of sustainable energy production. We are on a mission to build a company and brand that is driven by transformative products that can leave an impactful legacy for societal and environmental change.”

Sakuu Silicon Valley Factory. Photo via Sakuu.
The Sakuu Silicon Valley Factory. Photo via Sakuu.

3DPI: How do you 3D print a battery?

Arwed Niestroj: At the highest level, Sakuu’s unique technology, processes, and material use are proprietary for good reason. As you might imagine, 3D printing solid-state batteries is an extremely innovative enterprise. But on a more basic level, battery printing requires a 3D printing platform; we call ours Kavian. 

The Kavian platform integrates multiple processes and materials in a single platform to print fully functioning batteries at-scale. The Kavian platform can print ceramic, glass, metals, and polymer — in the same layer. The platform uses binder jetting for larger areas, and distinct material jetting for finer details. Conventional additive manufacturing processes perform each 3D printing step in series. Whereas, Kavian performs all steps in parallel, enabling a streamlined model that saves energy, cost, labor, materials, and time, while also increasing quality and reliability.

3DPI: Why would you 3D print a battery?

Arwed Niestroj: Traditional roll-to-roll battery manufacturing has notable limitations: energy use and carbon emissions, large factory footprints, material waste and inefficiency, supply chain dependencies, inability to customize battery shapes and sizes, high tooling cost, expansion constraints. There are even obstacles with the type of chemistry that can be used at scale. These are just some of the challenges in producing solid-state batteries and Sakuu’s Kavian platform addresses all of these pain points. 

It produces cells sustainably and cost-effectively at high volume with greater supply chain resilience via localized gigafactories and a production model that circumvents common supply chain issues. By producing batteries through this novel additive manufacturing process, the cells can be made domestically and at scale to quickly supply industries facing surges in demand, such as electric vehicle manufacturers. 

The materials used in the Kavian platform can be broken down and reused, leading to more sustainable production with less than 1% material waste. 

The benefits add up impressively: With Kavian we anticipate 69% fewer manufacturing process steps, 44% smaller factory footprints, 33% lower manufacturing costs, and 23% lower CapEx compared to traditional roll-to-roll battery manufacturing. Customization flexibility is also a core benefit of 3D printing batteries. 

The Kavian platform’s unique AM capabilities allow for custom battery shapes and sizes, which enables batteries to become an integral part of core product design (as opposed to a cumbersome component). Custom printed batteries can also supply increased performance, provide weight savings, and better utilize empty “dead” space in product design — by filling voids in, say, a mobile phone that conventional batteries can’t. For a simplistic example, the entire left arm on a nifty pair of new smart-sunglasses could be a printed battery versus a piece of plastic that houses a conventional battery insert.

3DPI: What makes Sakuu the best company to undertake the production of batteries?

Arwed Niestroj: On an existential level, we start with an unyielding commitment to our planet. This is our driving force, and it’s why Sakuu employees are so dedicated to pioneering technologies that don’t yet exist but ought to. 

We’re on a mission to create ingenious tools and products that will transform industries, help other companies, conserve precious resources, and reduce humanity’s dependence on fossil fuels. Secondly, and an extrapolation to the first point, we want to innovate, disrupt, and amaze. We’re here to make a better future happen. Thirdly, and core to the question: We have the expertise. 

Sakuu’s founding team comes from a rich semiconductor industry background, with proven achievement in bringing large-scale production of complex devices to life. Our leadership guides the ethos of the entire company with deep applied experience in the excruciating rigor and attention to detail required for precision technology production at scale. And finally, our battery chemists are currently achieving unmatched results. For example, we recently attained a new benchmark of 800Wh/L and high C rates in our non-printed battery line, demonstrating prowess with novel battery chemistries that we can position for amalgamation in our platform printing.

3DPI: What is the ten-year vision for Sakuu?

Arwed Niestroj: A decade from now the battery and energy landscape will have been transformed, and we’re just at the cusp of that revolution now. 2023 will see the delivery of Sakuu’s first-generation, ultra-safe solid state battery (SSB) to a range of customers in the e-mobility and energy storage sectors. We also anticipate breaking ground on the first of several planned Sakuu gigawatt factories worldwide. 

By 2028, we anticipate a target annual cell output of 60GWh via our gigafactories. Delivery of our industry-leading batteries at-scale will have big implications for the $200 billion EV industry. The arrival of a safe, sustainable, and high-performance SSB could solve a plague of supply chain and safety issues in the sector, initiating advancement beyond today’s common but limiting lithium-ion battery utilization. 

We envision the end customer, the product user, intentionally seeking products that have Sakuu batteries inside because of what our products stand for: leading performance, ultimate safety, and critical sustainability benefits. Part of our 10-year plan inherently includes our line of Kavian platforms, both for battery production and for those printing other complex devices outside of energy storage, in service worldwide satisfying production needs at scale for companies across all industries. 

For example, we have a division at Sakuu called Advanced Platform Solutions. They focus on additive manufacturing innovation outside of energy storage, working on an array of cutting-edge projects that only the Kavian platform can solve. We’re excited for the next decade and how we can make a tremendous impact.

Arwed Niestroj Sakuu General Manager Battery Business Unit. Photo via Sakuu.
Arwed Niestroj Sakuu General Manager Battery Business Unit. Photo via Sakuu.

Elsewhere, Blackstone Resources plans to profit from a 3D printed sodium-ion battery it is expected to launch in 2025. Furthermore, 6K is backing lithium-ion battery technology with a recent funding round providing $102 million.

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Featured image shows Sakuu battery packs. Image via Sakuu.