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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Researchers Develop Revolutionary Cathode Material for Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

  • The new cathode material is a crystal composed of sulfur and iodine.
  • The cathode material has a low melting point of 65 Celsius, enabling self-healing of damaged interfaces.
  • A test battery constructed with the new cathode material remained stable for over 400 cycles with 87% capacity retention.
Battery

Lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries hold promise for bringing more energy dense and low-cost batteries closer to market. University of California – San Diego engineers have developed an advanced cathode material for lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries that is healable and highly conductive, overcoming longstanding challenges of traditional sulfur cathodes. These improvements overcome the limitations of lithium-sulfur batteries’ current cathodes.

The reporting work paper has been published in the journal Nature.

Solid-state lithium-sulfur batteries are a type of rechargeable battery consisting of a solid electrolyte, an anode made of lithium metal and a cathode made of sulfur. These batteries hold promise as a superior alternative to current lithium-ion batteries as they offer increased energy density and lower costs. They have the potential to store up to twice as much energy per kilogram as conventional lithium-ion batteries – in other words, they could double the range of electric vehicles without increasing the battery pack’s weight. Additionally, the use of abundant, easily sourced materials makes them an economically viable and environmentally friendlier choice.

But the development of lithium-sulfur solid-state batteries has been historically plagued by the inherent characteristics of sulfur cathodes. Not only is sulfur a poor electron conductor, but sulfur cathodes also experience significant expansion and contraction during charging and discharging, leading to structural damage and decreased contact with the solid electrolyte. These issues collectively diminish the cathode’s ability to transfer charge, compromising the overall performance and longevity of the solid-state battery.

To overcome these challenges, a team led by researchers at the UC San Diego Sustainable Power and Energy Center developed a new cathode material: a crystal composed of sulfur and iodine. By inserting iodine molecules into the crystalline sulfur structure, the researchers drastically increased the cathode material’s electrical conductivity by 11 orders of magnitude, making it 100 billion times more conductive than crystals made of sulfur alone.

Study co-senior author Ping Liu, a professor of nanoengineering and director of the Sustainable Power and Energy Center at UC San Diego remarked, “We are very excited about the discovery of this new material. The drastic increase in electrical conductivity in sulfur is a surprise and scientifically very interesting.”

Moreover, the new crystal material possesses a low melting point of 65º Celsius (149º Fahrenheit), which is lower than the temperature of a hot mug of coffee. This means that the cathode can be easily re-melted after the battery is charged to repair the damaged interfaces from cycling. This is an important feature to address the cumulative damage that occurs at the solid-solid interface between the cathode and electrolyte during repeated charging and discharging.

Study co-senior author Shyue Ping Ong, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering commented, “This sulfur-iodide cathode presents a unique concept for managing some of the main impediments to commercialization of Li-S batteries. Iodine disrupts the intermolecular bonds holding sulfur molecules together by just the right amount to lower its melting point to the Goldilocks zone — above room temperature yet low enough for the cathode to be periodically re-healed via melting.”

Study co-first author Jianbin Zhou, a former nanoengineering postdoctoral researcher from Liu’s research group added, “The low melting point of our new cathode material makes repairing the interfaces possible, a long sought-after solution for these batteries,” said study co-first author Jianbin Zhou, a former nanoengineering postdoctoral researcher from Liu’s research group. “This new material is an enabling solution for future high energy density solid-state batteries.”

To validate the effectiveness of the new cathode material, the researchers constructed a test battery and subjected it to repeated charge and discharge cycles. The battery remained stable for over 400 cycles while retaining 87 percent of its capacity.

“This discovery has the potential to solve one of the biggest challenges to the introduction of solid-state lithium-sulfur batteries by dramatically increasing the useful life of a battery,” said study co-author Christopher Brooks, chief scientist at Honda Research Institute USA, Inc. “The ability for a battery to self-heal simply by raising the temperature could significantly extend the total battery life cycle, creating a potential pathway toward real-world application of solid-state batteries.”

The team is working to further advance the solid-state lithium-sulfur battery technology by improving cell engineering designs and scaling up the cell format.

“While much remains to be done to deliver a viable solid state battery, our work is a significant step,” said Liu. “This work was made possible thanks to great collaborations between our teams at UC San Diego and our research partners at national labs, academia and industry.”

**

Well, twice the capacity for a year and a month for a way lower price might make a go of it. The question is how many remelts can the system stand? 2 won’t get very far but 10 or 20 would be a revolution.

There will need to be a standard setting for remelting purposes. Some coding systems as one can’t foresee an endless remelt, and to make an exchange system practical.

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As noted, there is a long development process ahead.  And the question in many folks mind is how well will they work on a cold windy morning in Chicago during January?

Perhaps the biggest news is the effect of iodine on sulfur. That is stunning news, indeed!

By Brian Westenhaus via New Energy and Fuel

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