Possible Sulphur Solution for Batteries

Posted 30th January 2018 by Dave Cross
Last week, we reported how Chinese scientists created a workaround to the problem of lithium-ion batteries breaking down during use, but now a team from Berkeley could be offering us something far better. They could be about to offer the world safer and better performing replacements for li-ion products in the form of lithium-sulphur batteries.

Li-ions offer us a great little package that store a whole load of energy, outstripping any other affordable, commercial product. The well-documented drawback is that the batteries are sensitive to charge/discharge issues, causing the formation of dendrites (a fine growth from the positive to the negative electrode), rupturing cell integrity.

The solution may come in the form of lithium-sulphur batteries, as detailed in a paper published by Nature. The impetus to develop a better pack isn’t to accommodate vapers, its driven by the potential of an electric vehicle marketplace – but has definite possibilities for eCigs too.

When compared to lithium-ion batteries, lithium-sulphur batteries hold twice the charge, are far cheaper to make, and are lighter. The limiting factor is that lithium-sulphur batteries are unstable the longer they are used, rapidly deteriorating at the electrodes, and making them a poor option for commercial use.

Boffins at the American Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have developed a type of lithium-sulphur battery that can outperform the Chinese li-ions we reported on last week. The bonus is that during high current discharge testing, the batteries operated without failure for more than a hundred charge cycles. The new design operates to aviation and vehicular standards, which presents a brilliant opportunity to the wider public including vapers.

The redesign features a polymer that, as illustrated in the paper, has an active-management approach to ion transport. Berkeley’s Brett Helms is quoted as saying: “(It) acts as a wall. The sulphur is loaded into the pores of a carbon host, which are then sealed by our polymer. As sulphur participates in the battery’s chemical reactions, the polymer prevents the negatively charged sulphur compounds from wandering out. The battery has great promise for enabling the next generation of (electric vehicles).”

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It’s one thing to develop a working model in the laboratory, but can it be delivered to a mass market? The team believe so. They consider that the polymer “could easily be scaled to meet the demands for high-volume production”.

A lighter battery, costing less and being able to work harder for twice as long? Sounds almost too good to be true – especially given that any product is still years away.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker