Scientists have been trying to find cheap, effective energy storage solutions for decades. Until now, lithium-ion batteries have been the norm, but a new discovery promises to replace them with a more affordable alternative.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers have created a lithium-sulfur battery that is not only cheaper, but also can store considerably more energy than current lithium-ion batteries.
The energy increase is due to the fact that that the lithium-sulfur has four times the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. Moreover, the lithium-sulfur is less flammable, which makes it ideal for use in various environments that present a high risk of fire.
The discovery is quite a breakthrough, as previous attempts to create a compact, solid Li-S battery have failed because of the nature of the electrolyte. Previous lithium-sulfur batteries used a liquid electrolyte, which was an excellent conductor, but caused the battery to break down pretty quickly. Moreover, liquid electrolyte was very flammable.
Oak Ridge scientists seem to have overcome this problem. They have created a new material for the battery’s cathode, made of a more rugged type of sulfur. Also, they used a solid electrolyte to reduce the wear on the cathode. The new cathode material boasts an impressive 1,200 mAh per gram capacity per 300 cycles of charging and discharging. For comparison, lithium-ion cathodes have a capacity of only 140-170 mAh per gram.
The net battery is still in development and it may take some time before we see it available for commercial use. Researchers have already filed a patent application for the new invention.
When and if it becomes available, the Li-S battery could be successfully used in the aviation industry and for electric vehicle manufacturing, due to the fact that it is les flammable than other batteries. Its high energy density would make it useful in a wide range of industries, not to mention the impact it would have on the consumer electronics market – while a Li-Ion battery can keep your smartphone running for 8 hours, lithium-sulfur one could give it enough power to run for 32 hours.
[Image via ORNL]