Australian researchers say a dose of sugar could be the key to unlocking longer-lasting next generation lithium-sulfur batteries, which could deliver much longer range for electric cars and improve the base for batteries in heavy transport such as buses and trucks.
The research, undertaken by scientists from Monash University, has been published in the journal Nature Communications, and details how the Australian research team used a glucose-based additive to significantly improve the durability of the innovative lithium-sulfur batteries.
The researchers expect that the advances being achieved in next generation lithium-sulfur batteries could see them deployed in applications where minimising weight is a key priority, thanks to their ability to store a much larger amount of energy in a smaller battery.
“In less than a decade, this technology could lead to vehicles including electric buses and trucks that can travel from Melbourne to Sydney without recharging. It could also enable innovation in delivery and agricultural drones where light weight is paramount,” lead author professor Mainak Majumder said.
The researchers say that lithium-sulfur batteries could have the potential to store as much as two to five times as much energy compared to conventional lithium-ion batteries for the same amount of weight.
A key challenge for the lithium-sulfur batteries has been the durability of electrodes, which have been prone to deterioration when in use. This was caused by significant expansion and contraction of electrode materials during the use of lithium-sulfur batteries, as well as cross-contamination of sulfur compounds.
However, the Monash University researchers found that the addition of glucose, sourced from sugar, that the battery electrodes could be protected from contamination from the sulfur compounds within the battery.
The researchers said that they had been inspired by a geochemistry report, published back in 1988, which described now sugar based substances had the ability to resist degradation in sediments when they formed chemical bonds with sulfides.
By also adapting battery designs to accommodate the expansion of the electrodes, the researchers say that they have been able to significantly reduce the degradation of the electrodes.
The research team said that they had tested the new lithium-sulfur battery prototypes, finding that they managed to out-perform lithium-ion equivalents across at least 1,000 charge-discharge cycles.
“Each charge lasts longer, extending the battery’s life,” first author and PhD student Yingyi Huang said. “And manufacturing the batteries doesn’t require exotic, toxic, and expensive materials.”
Research co-author Dr Mahdokht Shaibani said that there still remained key challenges that need to be overcome before lithium-sulfur batteries are likely to see large-scale commercial production.
“While many of the challenges on the cathode side of the battery has been solved by our team, there is still need for further innovation into the protection of the lithium metal anode to enable large-scale uptake of this promising technology – innovations that may be right around the corner,” Shaibani said.
The research has been supported by the Australian subsidiary of the Thailand-based Enserv Group, which hopes to eventually manufacturer the lithium-sulfur batteries in Australia.
“We would be looking to use the technology to enter the growing market for electric vehicles and electronic devices,” managing director of Enserv Australia, Mark Gustowski, said. “We plan to make the first lithium-sulfur batteries in Australia using Australian lithium within about five years.”
The Monash University research team has focused on improving the durability of lithium-sulfur batteries, and have previously suggested the new battery chemistry could ultimately lead to electric vehicles with more than 1,000 km of range on a single charge.
Michael Mazengarb is a journalist with RenewEconomy, based in Sydney. Before joining RenewEconomy, Michael worked in the renewable energy sector for more than a decade.