By Harpreet Kaur Dhaliwal (BAC Apprentice)
We should not be tasting a battery by putting it on our tongues, but a team of researchers from Monash University, Australia, are enticing us.
The Monash Energy Institute, assisted by CSIRO have created a longer-lasting, lighter, and more sustainable alternative to the conventionally used lithium-ion batteries, by adding a glucose-based addictive to lithium-sulfur batteries. This could soon power electronics, deliver much longer range for electric vehicles, and improve the base batteries in heavy transports such as submarines and even aircrafts!
“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.” says lead author Professor Mainak Majumder, from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Associate Director of the Monash Energy Institute.
The researchers say that theoretically, lithium-sulfur batteries could have the potential to store up to five times more energy than lithium-ion batteries of the same weight.
What were the problems faced?
In short, the durability of the electrodes. This is because, the positive sulfur electrodes suffer from substantial expansion and contraction and the negative lithium electrode then becomes contaminated by sulfur compounds. Both problems have led to batteries deteriorating rapidly and breaking down as a result.
How did the Monash research team resolve this?
The Monash research team demonstrated their ability to solve the expansion problem by introducing a glucose based addictive into the web-like architecture of the electrode. This now stabilises the sulfur and restricts it from moving and blanketing the lithium electrode.
The researchers mentioned that this breakthrough stemmed from a 1988 geochemistry report that details how sugar-based materials resist degradations in geological sediments by creating strong bonds with sulfides.
The team has since constructed experimental cell prototypes showing a 97% sulfur utilisation with a charge-discharge life of at least 1000 cycles and this still holds far more capacity than lithium-ion batteries of the same type.
What are the benefits?
According to the first author and PhD student Yingyi Huang, firstly, the chargers last longer, extending the battery’s life span, and secondly, producing the batteries would not require rare or dangerous materials meaning that it would be a lot cheaper to produce.
Second author Dr Mahdokht Shaibani adds that while many of the challenges on the cathode side of the battery has been solved by their team, there are still key challenges that need to be overcome before lithium-sulfur batteries are likely to see large-scale commercial productions.
Overall, it seems like this optimism about the lithium-sulfur glucose-based battery technology is justified. If these ideas eventually do come into fruition in real life within five years as planned, it would solve most of the remaining problems with current electric vehicles.
(Source of images: Monash Energy Institute/Monash University)