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Sugar strengthens batteries

Global Society & Global Goals
Sugar strengthens batteries

Sweet things don't always have to do harm. At least this is true for batteries, as an Australian research team was able to impressively demonstrate.

Lithium-sulfur batteries are lightweight and have a high charging capacity. With up to five times the capacity for the same size, they would therefore be far more suitable for use in electric vehicles than current lithium-ion batteries.

The catch is that lithium-sulfur batteries break down too quickly. With only between 50 and 100 charging cycles, there's no need to even think about using them in electric cars. Back in February 2021, we were able to report on a breakthrough in the technology. A Korean research team had succeeded in showing that the inherent self-destruction process of the lithium-sulfur battery could be significantly slowed down by adding cobalt oxalate.

Now a team of scientists at Monash University in Australia has found a way to prevent the self-destruction of the negative lithium electrode. Until now, this has been destroyed by sulfur impurities, which form a layer on the electrode and thus interrupt its conductivity. So the team was on the lookout for a substance that would prevent the deposit from forming.

Solution for longevity: sugar

They found it in a spoonful of sugar. The sugar was incorporated into the material of the electrode. From then on, sulfur could no longer be deposited on the electrode. The team presents the process in detail in a paper on Nature.

Lithium-sulfur batteries constructed in this way should easily achieve 1,000 charging cycles and more. The researchers at Monash University are well aware that this is not enough. After all, modern lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles can last up to 2,000 charging cycles, which corresponds to about ten years of driving.

That's why they want to develop further protective measures for the lithium metal anode. About a year ago, the same team had already developed a method to stabilize the positive sulfur electrode by integrating a binder that ensures that the electrode survives the material movements during the charging process undamaged. Advantages of lithium-sulfur technology: Cheaper and more range.

The technology's appeal is obvious at first glance. Lithium-sulfur batteries are at least 20 percent cheaper to produce than those with lithium-ion technology. They are also said to have up to five times the capacity. So an electric vehicle that manages a range of around 500 kilometers with current batteries would be able to drive around 2,500 kilometers on one charge with the cheaper lithium-sulfur batteries.

Alternatively, the weight of the vehicle could be reduced while maintaining the same range. However, this effect is partly offset by the fact that the volumetric energy density of lithium-sulfur batteries is only about half that of lithium-ion batteries. A vehicle with today's weight and a range of around 1,200 kilometers would therefore appear realistic.

The general goal is to make significant contributions to global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility and information. To generate innovations, networks must be created on a disciplinary basis in the natural sciences, engineering, economics, humanities and social sciences. Innovation activity bridges the gap between knowledge and application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity and the preservation of our natural resources, and helps to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.


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