Researchers Find Unexpected Route To High-Efficiency, Low-Cost, And Long-Lasting Batteries

  • 08-September-2023

The path from a laboratory discovery to application in the real world can be long and difficult. Take the lithium-sulfur battery, for example. Despite the fact that it offers significant advantages over the existing automotive lithium-ion batteries, it has not yet established a significant market share.

Thanks to the efforts of researchers at the DOE's Argonne National Laboratory, this circumstance may alter in the future. They have made a number of important discoveries about lithium-sulfur batteries over the past ten years. Their most recent discovery, which was published in Nature, reveals a reaction mechanism that was previously unknown and addresses a major flaw, which is the extremely short lifespan of the batteries.

Gui-Liang Xu, scientist in Argonne's Substance Sciences and Designing division, expressed "Our group's endeavors could bring the U.S. one enormous bit nearer to a greener and more feasible transportation scene."

Lithium-sulfur batteries offer three critical benefits over current lithium-particle batteries. First, they are able to store two to three times as much energy in a given volume, allowing vehicles to travel for longer distances. Second, they are economically viable because of their lower cost and the abundance and affordability of sulfur. Last but not least, these batteries do not rely on essential resources like nickel and cobalt, which might run out in the future.

Despite these advantages, it has been difficult to move from laboratory success to commercial viability. Although laboratory cells have produced promising results, their performance rapidly deteriorates upon scaling up to commercial size through repeated charging and discharging.

The dissolution of sulfur from the cathode during discharge, which results in the formation of soluble lithium polysulfides (Li2S6), is the root cause of this performance drop. During charging, these compounds flow into the negative electrode (anode) of the lithium metal, escalating the problem even further. As a result, the battery's performance during cycling is significantly hampered by changes in the composition of the anode and the removal of sulfur from the cathode.

In a recent earlier study, researchers at Argonne developed a catalytic material that, when added to the sulfur cathode in a small amount, effectively resolved the issue of sulfur loss. This catalyst's atomic-scale working mechanism has remained a mystery up until this point, despite the fact that it demonstrated promise in cells of both commercial and laboratory sizes.

This mechanism was revealed by the team's most recent research. At the cathode surface, lithium polysulfides form and go through a series of reactions without the catalyst, transforming the cathode into lithium sulfide (Li2S).

Xu stated, "However, the presence of a tiny amount of catalyst in the cathode makes all the difference." "A very different reaction pathway, devoid of intermediate reaction steps, then follows."

The catalyst is essential for the appearance of dense nanoscale bubbles of lithium polysulfide on the cathode surface. These lithium polysulfides quickly spread all through the cathode structure during release and change to lithium sulfide comprising of nanoscale crystallites. In commercial-size cells, this procedure prevents sulfur loss and performance decline.

The scientists used cutting-edge characterization methods to open this black box surrounding the reaction mechanism. The structure of the catalyst was analyzed using intense synchrotron X-ray beams at beamline 20-BM of the Advanced Photon Source, a DOE Office of Science user facility. This analysis revealed that the catalyst plays a crucial role in the pathway of the reaction. The shape and composition of the discharged final product as well as the intermediate products are influenced by the catalyst structure. Upon full discharge, the catalyst produces nanocrystalline lithium sulfide. Instead of microscale rod-shaped structures, the catalyst is missing.

The team was able to observe the electrode-electrolyte interface at the nanoscale while a test cell was operating with the help of Xiamen University's other important method. This recently designed procedure associated changes at the nanoscale to the way of behaving of a working cell.

Xu remarked, "We will be doing more research to design even better sulfur cathodes based on our exciting discovery." "It would also be worthwhile to investigate whether this mechanism applies to other batteries of the next generation, such as sodium-sulfur,"

With this the group's most recent leap forward, the fate of lithium-sulfur batteries seems more splendid, offering a more practical and eco-accommodating answer for the transportation business.

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