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New Lithium Sulphur from Oak Ridge Labs

Mon, 07/15/2013 - 18:36 -- Ruth Williams
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Scientists at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory have designed and tested an all-solid lithium-sulphur battery with approximately four times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion technologies that power today's electronics.

The ORNL battery design, which uses abundant low-cost elemental sulphur, also addresses flammability concerns experienced by other chemistries.

"Our approach is a complete change from the current battery concept of two electrodes joined by a liquid electrolyte, which has been used over the last 150 to 200 years," said Chengdu Liang, lead author on the ORNL study published this week in Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Scientists have been excited about the potential of lithium-sulphur batteries for decades, but long-lasting, large-scale versions for commercial applications have proven elusive. Researchers were stuck with a catch-22 created by the battery's use of liquid electrolytes: On one hand, the liquid helped conduct ions through the battery by allowing lithium polysulfide compounds to dissolve. The downside, however, was that the same dissolution process caused the battery to prematurely break down.

The ORNL team overcame these barriers by first synthesising a never-before-seen class of sulphur-rich materials that conduct ions as well as the lithium metal oxides conventionally used in the battery's cathode. Liang's team then combined the new sulphur-rich cathode and a lithium anode with a solid electrolyte material, also developed at ORNL, to create an energy-dense, all-solid battery.

"This game-changing shift from liquid to solid electrolytes eliminates the problem of sulphur dissolution and enables us to deliver on the promise of lithium-sulphur batteries," Liang said. "Our battery design has real potential to reduce cost, increase energy density and improve safety compared with existing lithium-ion technologies."