New lithium-sulfur battery design uses less lithium and lasts longer

Researchers from Monash University have devised a novel lithium-sulfur battery configuration featuring a nanoporous polymer-coated lithium foil anode. This innovation significantly reduces the amount of lithium required in each battery. With the global shift towards renewable energy, the demand for sustainable energy storage solutions is increasingly critical.

In a recent publication in Advanced Sustainable Systems, Ph.D. student Declan McNamara, along with Professors Matthew Hill and Mainak Majumder from Monash Engineering, and Dr. Makhdokht Shaibani of RMIT University, detail how the direct application of nanoporous polymer onto the lithium foil anode has given rise to a groundbreaking battery design. This design not only minimizes the lithium usage but also enhances energy density, longevity, and affordability, making it a cost-effective alternative to lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries are an emerging energy storage technology that capitalizes on metallic lithium and sulfur to offer a higher energy-to-weight ratio than lithium-ion batteries. Although Li-S batteries are remarkably efficient, the environmental impact of sourcing and transporting lithium necessitates using as little lithium as possible.

Typically, Li-S batteries consist of a lithium anode (negative electrode), sulfur cathode (positive electrode), and a separator. During charge and discharge cycles, substantial chemical reactions occur between lithium and sulfur, subjecting the lithium metal to considerable stress.

Lead researcher and Ph.D. student Declan McNamara at Monash Engineering explained that the thin polymer coating on lithium substantially enhances the battery’s cycle life. The polymer contains sub-nanometer-sized pores, allowing lithium ions to move freely while preventing detrimental chemical interactions. This coating also acts as a scaffold for lithium, facilitating repeated charging and discharging.

This innovative design eliminates the need for nickel or cobalt, which are minerals associated with significant environmental and social costs.

Professor Mainak Majumder expressed optimism about these developments, emphasizing their potential for broader adoption of Li-S batteries and other lithium metal-based energy storage systems. Protecting lithium metal is pivotal for developing energy-dense and sustainable batteries.

Professor Matthew Hill noted that the technology could have an immediate impact, particularly in the burgeoning markets of electric vehicles, drones, and electronic devices. The research is ready for commercial manufacturing, making it a promising advancement towards more economical and environmentally conscious battery options. Collaborations with commercial partners are anticipated to further develop and manufacture this technology, benefiting both Australia and the global pursuit of sustainable energy solutions.

Source: Monash University

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