We all know how lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have transformed the world, basically they are fundamental to modern technology, and as electric vehicles become more popular, batteries with greater durability will be required, with greater storage capacity but at the same time lighter so that they can find new applications and also making use of less minerals as difficult to extract as lithium.
Solid-state lithium-sulfur batteries could revolutionize the battery industry. Source: edited image, original from pxfuel.com.
One of the technologies that could provide a solution to the latter could be lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries, which theoretically have higher efficiency than conventional lithium batteries, can store up to five times more energy, and make use of materials that can be obtained in a more environmentally friendly way. The problem facing the development of this type of battery is that the electrodes are very unstable, resulting in a short useful life, and on the other hand they have a slower performance, mainly because the positive sulfur electrode weakens as a result of continuous expansion and contraction, which also contaminates the lithium with sulfur compounds.
Although the anode of Li-S batteries is easier to form compared to Li-ion batteries, the problem is that it also cracks easily due to polysulfide attack and the expansion caused by lithium exchange, this continuous reforming of the electrode. But researchers at the Monash Energy Institute may have found the solution, as reported in the journal Nature Communications, by employing a glucose-based stabilizer on the positive electrode that has achieved greater stability in the Li-S system.
General schematic of the LiS battery system. Source: image designed in PowerPoint.
Numerous investigations suggested that the life cycle of Li-S batteries could be improved by using coatings that could confine the polysulfides (Li2SX) and fix the volume change, several cellulose-based binder systems were explored that provided a robust system, but none offered long-term stability.
The researchers determined that they could incorporate sugar into the network-forming structure of the sulfur electrode to correct the expansion problem, thereby stabilizing the sulfur and preventing it from shifting and contaminating the lithium electrode. An additional advantage is that they can be made from commonly sourced materials.
Test prototypes have been able to achieve charge and discharge cycles of at least 1000 cycles, maintaining the capacity of the Li-S system and extending service life, comparable to Li-ion batteries. The design was shown to provide resistance to expansion and effectively confine polysulfide and ion diffusion through the nanostructure.
While this has made a breakthrough in solving the cathode problems, researchers are still working on developing the lithium electrode so that large-scale adoption can become a reality, enabling innovations that require lighter batteries, such as for use in delivery drones, or that need more storage capacity, such as electric buses and trucks.
Hopefully, the technology of these batteries will continue to advance to have such important applications available in the near future, especially those aimed at providing greater range in street and cargo vehicles, which is necessary for the wider adoption of electric vehicles.
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