Sugar coating opens a path to low cost lithium sulfur batteries

Media releases, Monash Energy Institute

Offering the potential to:

  • Drive an electric vehicle from Melbourne to Sydney on a single charge
  • Create lightweight batteries for drones and submarines
  • Unlock new avenues in aviation and maritime industries
  • Produce batteries in Australia with Australian lithium, without using cobalt and rare earth minerals.

Melbourne to Sydney on one charge: the new lithium-sulfur battery technology could store two to five times more energy. The Monash Energy Institute team (L-R): Mahdokht Shaibani, Mainak Majumder, Matthew Hill, Yingyi Huang.
Credit: Monash Energy Institute

Simply by adding sugar, researchers from the Monash Energy Institute have created a longer-lasting, lighter, more sustainable rival to the lithium-ion batteries that are essential for aviation, electric vehicles and submarines.

The Monash team, assisted by CSIRO, report in today’s edition of Nature Communications that using a glucose-based additive on the positive electrode they have managed to stabilise lithium-sulfur battery technology, long touted as the basis for the next generation of batteries.

“In less than a decade, this technology could lead to vehicles including electric buses and trucks that can travel from Melbourne to Sydney without recharging. It could also enable innovation in delivery and agricultural drones where light weight is paramount,” says lead author Professor Mainak Majumder, from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Associate Director of the Monash Energy Institute.

In theory, lithium-sulfur batteries could store two to five times more energy than lithium-ion batteries of the same weight. The problem has been that, in use the electrodes deteriorated rapidly, and the batteries broke down. There were two reasons for this – the positive sulfur electrode suffered from substantial expansion and contraction weakening it and making it inaccessible to lithium, and the negative lithium electrode became contaminated by sulfur compounds.

Last year the Monash team demonstrated they could open the structure of the sulfur electrode to accommodate expansion and make it more accessible to lithium. Now, by incorporating sugar into the web-like architecture of the electrode they have stabilised the sulfur, preventing it from moving and blanketing the lithium electrode.

Test-cell prototypes constructed by the team have been shown to have a charge-discharge life of at least 1000 cycles, while still holding far more capacity than equivalent lithium-ion batteries. “So each charge lasts longer, extending the battery’s life,” says first author and PhD student Yingyi Huang. “And manufacturing the batteries doesn’t require exotic, toxic, and expensive materials.”

PhD student Yingyi Huang says her new battery prototypes can be made without exotic, toxic and expensive materials.
Credit: Monash Energy Institute

Yingyi and her colleagues were inspired by a 1988 geochemistry report that describes how sugar-based substances resist degradations in geological sediments by forming strong bonds with sulfides.

Dr Mahdokht Shaibani, second author and Monash researcher, says, “While many of the challenges on the cathode side of the battery has been solved by our team, there is still need for further innovation into the protection of the lithium metal anode to enable large-scale uptake of this promising technology – innovations that may be right around the corner.”

The process was developed by the Monash team with significant contribution from Dr Matthew Hill’s research group in CSIRO Manufacturing.

The Lithium-sulfur Battery Research Program at Monash University has been supported by the Commonwealth Government through the Australian Research Council and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. In addition, the work has also been supported by Cleanfuture Energy, Australia, an Australian subsidiary of the Enserv Group of Thailand.

Enserv Australia hopes to develop and manufacture the batteries in Australia, the world’s largest producer of lithium.  “We would be looking to use the technology to enter the growing market for electric vehicles and electronic devices,” says Mark Gustowski, Managing Director of Enserv Australia. “We plan to make the first lithium-sulfur batteries in Australia using Australian lithium within about five years.”

Enserv is an energy research and innovation company that comprises two core businesses: Clean Energy Innovation and Clean Energy Generation.


For further information and to organise interviews, contact

Niall Byrne, Science in Public
T: +61 417 131 977 E: niall@scienceinpublic.com.au

Hande Cater, Monash University
T: +61 466 302 936   E: hande.cater@monash.edu

Images

By incorporating sugar into the web-like architecture of the electrode they have stabilised the sulfur, preventing it from moving and blanketing the lithium electrode
Credit: Monash Energy Institute
Melbourne to Sydney on one charge: the new lithium-sulfur battery technology could store two to five times more energy. The Monash Energy Institute team (L-R): Mahdokht Shaibani, Mainak Majumder, Matthew Hill, Yingyi Huang.
Credit: Monash Energy Institute
The Monash Energy Institute team (L-R): Mahdokht Shaibani, Matthew Hill, Yingyi Huang, Mainak Majumder
Credit: Monash Energy Institute
The Monash Energy Institute team (L-R): Yingyi Huang, Mainak Majumder, Mahdokht Shaibani, Matthew Hill
Credit: Monash Energy Institute
PhD student Yingyi Huang says her new battery prototypes can be made without exotic, toxic and expensive materials.
Credit: Monash Energy Institute
PhD student Yingyi Huang says her new battery prototypes can be made without exotic, toxic and expensive materials.
Credit: Monash Energy Institute
PhD student Yingyi Huang says her new battery prototypes can be made without exotic, toxic and expensive materials.
Credit: Monash Energy Institute

Supporting information

Paper: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-25612-5

Abstract

A saccharide-based binder for efficient polysulfide regulations in Li-S batteries

The viability of lithium-sulfur batteries as an energy storage technology depends on unlocking long-term cycle stability. Most instability stems from the release and transport of polysulfides from the cathode, which causes mossy growth on the lithium anode, leading to continuous consumption of electrolyte. Therefore, development of a durable cathode with minimal polysulfide escape is critical. Here, we present a saccharide-based binder system that has a capacity for the regulation of polysulfides due to its reducing properties. Furthermore, the binder promotes the formation of viscoelastic filaments during casting which endows the sulfur cathode with a desirable web-like microstructure. Taken together this leads to 97% sulfur utilisation with a cycle life of 1000 cycles (9 months) and capacity retention (around 700 mAh g−1 after 1000 cycles). A pouch cell prototype with a specific energy of up to 206 Who kg−1 is produced, demonstrating the promising potential for practical applications.

The Research Team

Yingyi Huang, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

Mahdokht Shaibani, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

Tanesh D. Gamot, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

Mingchao Wang, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Monash University

Petar Jovanović, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

M. C. Dilusha Cooray, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

Meysam Sharifzadeh Mirshekarloo, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

Roger Mulder, CSIRO, Clayton

Nikhil V. Medhekar, Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Monash University

Matthew R. Hill, Department of Chemical Engineering, Monash University & CSIRO, Clayton

Mainak Majumder, Nanoscale Science and Engineering Laboratory. Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Monash University

Monash Energy Institute

The Monash Energy Institute is a collective of researchers which aims to find solutions to future energy demands. Based at, and facilitated by Monash University, the Institute represents a network of researchers across disciplines and sectors all working together to create sustainable and reliable energy solutions.

https://www.monash.edu/energy-institute