A lithium-sulfur battery that can power a mobile phone for the whole of the working week has been developed by scientists at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and their international collaborators [Shaibani, M. et al., Sci. Adv. (2020); DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay2757]

Monash's Mahdokht Shaibani has led an international research team to develop an ultra-high capacity Li-S battery. The battery outperforms the current ubiquitous lithium-ion devices we all use to power our smart phones, tablet PCs, and other devices. The researchers also have patent approval (PCT/AU 2019/051239) for their precise manufacturing process and so prototype cells are already being built by the team's partners at Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology in Germany. The team reports that interest from large manufacturers of lithium batteries in China and Europe has been expressed in terms of scaling up production, while further testing will take place early this year in Australia.

Fundamentally, the team used the same basic materials found in conventional lithium-ion batteries, but reconfigured the battery design to use a sulfur cathode with a high-modulus binder between neighboring particles. This allowed them to load the cathode without the deleterious volume expansion that would otherwise occur and so maintain overall capacity and performance. Interestingly, the binding chemistry was based on a processing technique for powder detergents developed in the 1970s.

Monash colleague Mainak Majumder explains that the development of this Li-S technology is something of an Australian breakthrough and could transform the way devices, including phones and computers, but also cars are powered. Moreover, the devices could be useful as storage for energy generated by solar panels in more effective and environmentally friendly way than conventional batteries.

"Successful fabrication and implementation of Li-S batteries in cars and grids will capture a more significant part of the estimated $213 billion value chain of Australian lithium, and will revolutionize the Australian vehicle market and provide all Australians with a cleaner and more reliable energy market," Majumder said. Of course, with a vast, international market the potential is almost unlimited.

Team member Matthew Hill points out that not only do these new batteries have attractive performance and lower manufacturing costs, but they use a material that is in abundant supply rather than relying on rare metals as other experimental electricity storage systems have done. He adds that the ease of processing and reduced environmental footprint for making this type of battery are also attractive prospects for future real-world applications.

"This approach not only favors high performance metrics and long cycle life, but is also simple and extremely low-cost to manufacture, using water-based processes, and can lead to significant reductions in environmentally hazardous waste," Hill explains.