Electronics and Semiconductors

Meet the lithium-sulfur battery

22 February 2023

The lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery has been under development for several years now and it is looking like it could be the next big thing in battery technology. This type of battery has a lot of potential advantages over traditional lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, including performance at extreme temperatures, significant weight reduction and low cost.

There is still some work to be done before the Li-S battery is ready for mass production and commercialization, but this type of battery is looking like it could become a mainstream solution in the near-future.

How do Li-S batteries work?

These are a type of rechargeable battery that could challenge Li-ion technology for dominance due to their high energy density. The batteries use sulfur as the cathode and lithium metal as the anode with a solid electrolyte between them. Due to the low cost and abundance of sulfur, Li-S batteries present an economically viable alternative to traditional Li-ion batteries, which mostly utilize cobalt in its cathode material.

So how do these Li-S batteries work? During the charging process, a Li ion is oxidized and becomes an electron; this electron then travels to the cathode. The sulfur atoms in the cathode react with the Li ion and form polysulfide molecules, which act as a bridge between two Li ions.

This initiates eight sulfur atoms to form a ring and consecutively trigger a reduction reaction to gradually shorten and become linear structures of lithium sulfide. During discharging, oxidation occurs in the reverse order — converting back into polysulfide molecules, which again transfer electrons from one side of the battery to another. This process releases energy in the form of electricity.

Why are Li-S batteries solid-state?

Li-S cells are solid state, meaning they do not require the liquid electrolyte found in traditional Li-ion cells. This gives them a number of advantages, including higher energy density and better safety than their liquid counterparts.

What makes Li-S cells solid state is their unique structure. Unlike traditional Li-ion cells, Li-S batteries have a bipolar architecture, with both cathode and anode materials located on either side of the separator. The cathode material is typically sulfur, and the anode material can be lithium metal or a lithium alloy. The active materials are then held in place by a solid separator, typically made of polyethylene or other polymer material.

The lack of liquid electrolyte in Li-S cells gives them several physical advantages over other types of batteries. Solid state batteries can hold more energy due to their higher storage density. Additionally, since there is no liquid electrolyte present, the risk of short circuiting and thermal runaway is greatly reduced. This makes them far safer than traditional cells, which can catch fire if punctured or damaged.

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Advantages of Li-S over Li-ion batteries

Li-S batteries are the next generation of energy storage technology that offer unprecedented advantages over traditional Li-ion batteries. The unique combination of lighter weight, higher energy density, increased safety, lower cost and energy to produce, and superior performance in weathered conditions make Li-S an ideal choice for many applications.

One major advantage of Li-S is its unprecedented energy density. With a theoretical capacity of up to 2,500 Wh/kg — significantly more than most Li-ion cells — it can store twice as much power in a single battery. This significantly reduces the size and weight of the battery while providing maximum power output. Furthermore, this high energy density translates into a longer range for electric vehicles (EVs), making Li-S batteries ideal for transportation.

Li-S is also much more cost effective and requires less energy to produce than Li-ion batteries. Material costs are up to 70% lower due to the use of sulfur as an active material, which reduces the need for expensive rare Earth materials used in Li-ion cells. Additionally, fewer components and simpler production processes result in reduced energy costs and improved sustainability compared with traditional batteries.

The stability of Li-S batteries is also impressive. Under extreme conditions such as temperatures of -70° C and under 1/25 atmospheric pressure, the performance remains stable. This allows them to be used in applications where a traditional Li-ion battery could not survive, making them highly versatile and useful for various industries.

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The combination of these advantages makes Li-S batteries an ideal choice for many applications ranging from consumer electronics to EVs and more. Their low cost, energy density, sustainability, superior performance in weathered conditions, and unparalleled safety make them a smart alternative to traditional Li-ion cells.

The Li-S battery is a serious contender for becoming the next-gen battery, as these boast many advantages over the current version, the Li-ion battery. Some of these advantages include having a higher energy density and being more environmentally friendly.

Even though there are some challenges that need to be faced before mass production can begin, such as cycle life and cost, it is clear that the potential benefits outweigh the negatives.

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