On Monday, CNN reported researchers from an Australian University made a major breakthrough in battery efficiency and capacity. A research group from Melbourne’s Monash University filed a patent for a lithium-sulfur battery capable of powering a smartphone for up to five days. Moreover, the scientists reported their innovation could give an electric vehicle a 600-mile range.
The Promise of Sulfur Batteries
Currently, the world utilizes batteries composed of lithium-ion to power their electronic devices and transports. Because of their capacity and durability, manufacturers have used lithium-ion cells to make iPhones and Tesla sedans part of the modern landscape. However, despite their practicality, that type of battery has significant limitations.
After around 500 charging cycles, lithium-ion batteries start to lose their ability to hold a charge. As portable electronics have become ubiquitous, so has electronic refuse. Indeed, in 2017, consumers generated 44 million tons of e-waste. Similarly, their discharge rates have limited the range of electric cars to 250 to 300 miles. However, lithium-sulfur batteries offer a better way forward for consumers and the environment.
Notably, lithium-sulfur cells have a much higher energy density than their lithium-ion counterparts. Moreover, as they aren’t made with expensive components like nickel and cobalt, they are much cheaper to synthesize. But they also have a major drawback; sulfur electrodes tend to disintegrate after being recharged repeatedly.
A paper published in the Energies journal states the cells start losing capacity after around 100 charging cycles.
Consequently, manufacturers haven’t used lithium-sulfur batteries when mass-producing consumer electronics. However, the Monash University team has found a way to overcome that issue with its new production process.
Lithium-Sulfur Battery Innovation
According to the Monash University researchers, their new lithium-sulfur battery offers four-times the performance of traditional cells. Besides, the scientists’ new cell maintains 99 percent efficiency after more than 200 charging cycles.
The group found that their electrochemical innovation gives a smartphone enough energy to run for five days between charges. Moreover, the team’s research indicates its lithium-sulfur batteries can power an electric car for 1000 kilometers or 621 miles. For comparison sake, Tesla’s Model S, the world’s longest-range battery-powered vehicle, gets 307 miles per charge.
It’s worth noting the Australian scientists’ innovation has significant ecological benefits. For one thing, the team utilized a water-based synthesis process that produces less hazardous byproducts than traditional methods. Moreover, if they enter mass production, the lithium-sulfur cells could significantly reduce the amount of the world’s e-waste.
Furthermore, the Monash technologists claim their production process is both simple and low cost. Accordingly, the team notes corporations in China and Europe have expressed interest in fabricating their cells at scale. As governments in both regions have pledged to ban gas-powered transports in the next 20 years, lithium-sulfur battery packs could be an ideal solution for international carmakers.
The Monash University group noted their battery pack technology is “on the brink” of commercialization. Indeed, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology has already made lithium-sulfur cells using its findings. Later this year, the team will use its $2.5 million in outside funding to test its application in cars and municipal power grids.