Energy

Rare metalloid quadruples lifespan of lithium-sulfur batteries

Rare metalloid quadruples life...
A device used by University of Texas at Austin researchers to test a new lithium-sulfur battery, which offered a four-fold increase in lifespan over conventional designs
A device used by University of Texas at Austin researchers to test a new lithium-sulfur battery, which offered a four-fold increase in lifespan over conventional designs
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A device used by University of Texas at Austin researchers to test a new lithium-sulfur battery, which offered a four-fold increase in lifespan over conventional designs
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A device used by University of Texas at Austin researchers to test a new lithium-sulfur battery, which offered a four-fold increase in lifespan over conventional designs

Lithium-ion batteries are the backbone of modern energy storage in consumer devices, but there are alternatives in the pipeline that could offer us considerable advantages moving forward. Among the candidates are lithium-sulfur batteries, which can hold many times the energy of their lithium-ion counterparts but quickly degrade and die. Scientists at University of Texas at Austin have devised a solution to this problem, integrating a protective layer that enables the lithium-sulfur battery to last four times longer.

A battery that relies on a lithium-sulfur chemistry rather than the conventional lithium-ion one could store five times the energy, raising the prospect of smartphones that run for days or electric cars that can travel much further on each charge. But efforts to get these devices out of the lab and into the real world have been stifled by how rapidly the materials deteriorate, significantly reducing the cycle life of the battery.

This demise can be due to mossy, needle-shaped deposits called dendrites that form on the battery’s negative electrode, which is made from lithium-metal. These can in turn break down the electrolyte solution that carries the charge back and forth between the negative and positive electrodes, ultimately leading to the battery short-circuiting and possibly even catching fire.

We’ve looked at a number of promising tweaks to lithium-sulfur batteries that could shore up their longevity. These include new types of architectures that bind key components together, semi-solid cupcake-shaped electrolytes, and the use of hybrid electrodes.

The University of Texas at Austin team believe they have uncovered another promising pathway forward, developing a lithium-sulfur battery featuring a protective layer of a rare metalloid called tellurium, which is most often used in photovoltaic solar cell production. This sits atop the lithium-metal electrode and limits the dendrites, leading to a substantially longer battery lifespan.

“The layer formed on lithium surface allows it to operate without breaking down the electrolyte, and that makes the battery last much longer,” says co-author Amruth Bhargav.

Testing an experimental version of the battery in the lab, the team was able to demonstrate that this new design could last four times as long as a typical lithium-sulfur battery. They note that the manufacturing method involves no expensive or complicated procedures, which dovetails nicely with the cost-effective nature of lithium-sulfur batteries more generally.

“Sulfur is abundant and environmentally benign with no supply chain issues in the US,” says Arumugam Manthiram, study author. “But there are engineering challenges. We’ve reduced a problem to extend the cycle life of these batteries.”

The scientists have filed a provisional patent for the technology, while the research was published in the journal Joule.

Source: University of Texas at Austin

6 comments
Ianspeed
I think the word "rare" is probably the undoing of this already, we need some substance that is not rare and will not involve ripping the planet apart to get to it... And then wouldn't the rare metal be better utilised in the photovoltaic cell instead of a battery where it is used x times and dumped? As we all know battery recycling is mostly myth! Just saying...
JimFox
SO- '4 times as long'-- how many charging cycles??
Username
For once I'd like to read about a new battery technology hitting the market instead of another breakthrough in a lab
Signguy
Why is Lithium always added to? We need a better solution than always working with something that doesn't work well to begin with; a New technology that doesn't end up thrown away to pollute.
Expanded Viewpoint
Their efforts would be much better spent in finding ways to bring us a cleaner means of generating/collecting energy, than just shifting the pollution load to another sector. Once we have clean energy, THEN find a means to store it and dispense it.
Has anybody but me, ever thought about how much Carbon based fuel is used to mine and then process the Tellurium out of the ore? How easily is it recycled? Does it require as much energy to recycle it as is needed to get it the first time around?

Randy
Kpar
Ianspeed, that all depends upon how much is used. JimFox, I was going to make the same point. Username, go to Youtube and look up "Breakthrough Solid State Battery - 900 Wh/L Samsung [2020]"- this is for sale now. Signguy, that just makes recycling more immportant. Expanded Viewpoint- you have it exactly backwards, the main drawback to "renewables" is the lack of energy storage.