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Sulfur could make lithium batteries safer and cheaper

A new kind of lithium sulfur battery could be more efficient, less expensive, and safer than currently available lithium batteries.

“We demonstrated this method in a coin battery,” says Donghai Wang, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State. “But, I think it could eventually become big enough for cell phones, drones, and even bigger for electric vehicles.”

One of the lithium sulfur coin batteries. (Credit: Patrick Mansell/Penn State)

Lithium sulfur batteries should be a promising candidate for the next generation of rechargeable batteries, but they are not without problems. For lithium, the efficiency in which charge transfers is low, and, lithium batteries tend to grow dendrites—thin branching crystals—when charging that do not disappear when discharged.

The researchers examined a self-formed, flexible hybrid solid-electrolyte interphase layer that is deposited by both organosulfides and organopolysulfides with inorganic lithium salts. The researchers report that the organic sulfur compounds act as plasticizers in the interphase layer and improve the mechanical flexibility and toughness of the layer. The interphase layer allows the lithium to deposit without growing dendrites. The Coulombic efficiency is about 99 percent over 400 recharging discharging cycles.

sulfur lithium batteries
Lithium sulfur batteries stored on a fast charger. (Credit: Patrick Mansell/Penn State)

“We need some kind of barrier on the lithium in a lithium metal battery, or it reacts with everything,” says Wang.

Sulfur is a good choice because it is inexpensive and provides the battery with high-charge capacity, higher-energy density so a lithium sulfur battery has more energy. However, a lithium sulfur battery forms an inorganic coating in the battery that is brittle and cannot tolerate changes in volume. The inorganic sulfur interface cannot sustain high energy. In a lithium sulfur battery, the electrolyte dries up and the bulk lithium corrodes. The lithium dendrites that form can create short circuits and other safety hazards.

“Potentially we can double the energy density of conventional DC batteries using lithium sulfur batteries with this hybrid organosulfide/organopolysulfide interface,” says Wang.

They can also create a safer, more reliable battery.

Cheap sodium battery works as well as pricey lithium

To create their battery, the researchers used an ether-based electrolyte with sulfur-containing polymer additives. The battery uses a sulfur-infused carbon cathode and a lithium anode. The organic sulfur in the electrolyte self-forms the interphase layers.

The researchers report that they “demonstrate a lithium-sulfur battery exhibiting a long cycling life—1000 cycles—and good capacity retention.”

The researchers report their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

The US Department of Energy supported this work.

Source: Penn State

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