16:06 PM

Improving the Function of Functional Materials via 3D Printing

Pitt MEMS Professor Paul Ohodnicki Leads TMS and DOE Accelerator Report on Additive Manufacturing for Energy-Related Functional Materials

Functional materials are important for many power applications, like semiconductors, electric motors and batteries, but they are often expensive and energy-intensive to manufacture using traditional methods. Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, could help ease this burden, because it can rapidly produce on-demand, highly complex parts using less energy and less material than traditional methods. 

The use of AM for functional materials, however, is still largely unexplored. 

Paul Ohodnicki, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at the University of Pittsburgh, recently led an accelerator study to advance the use of additive manufacturing for energy-related functional materials. The study, which outlines steps toward the future of electric power materials, was organized by the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS) on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy—Advanced Manufacturing Office.

“We wanted to identify areas where we could take intellectual leadership, specifically laying out how the field of functional materials can help move us toward decarbonization,” said Ohodnicki, who served as Study Team Chair. “This is an important area that is growing rapidly, but we’re still in the early stages of applying additive manufacturing to functional materials. Because it’s early and requires different materials, there are a lot of unique aspects that need to be considered.”


Functional materials are often expensive and energy-intensive to manufacture using traditional methods. The report suggests that if materials scientists and engineers can take advantage of AM for functional materials, it could lower costs and enable the production of more complex architectures. 

Another advantage is that artificial intelligence and computational modeling can be used with AM to accelerate the discovery of new functional materials. AM offers sustainability benefits, too, with significant potential energy savings over traditional manufacturing approaches and less material waste.

In order to achieve these benefits, the report lays out a number of areas for further research, including gaining a better understanding of AM design for functional materials, the new processes, methods and materials needed to adapt AM to functional materials, and methods for recycling and reusing AM feedstock materials.

Ohonicki served as study team chair of this accelerator report, with George Spanos, director of new initiatives, science and engineering at TMS, serving as project leader. The project assembled experts in the field of additive manufacturing and functional materials from academia, industry and national labs, including Markus Chmielus, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Pitt, who served as an expert contributor. Together the group has designed an action plan that lays out the steps researchers will broadly need to take to move the technology forward, with the goal of inspiring new projects and initiatives in the field. The entire report can be found on the TMS website.

“This report brings together key experts who collectively helped to shape a vision for AM opportunities, as well as the areas where work is needed most,” said Ohodnicki. “This is an important area, and now is the right time to pull together the state of the art and work together to develop it for the future of the energy transition.”