Want Better Lithium-Sulfur Batteries? Use Seaweed

Lithium-sulfur batteries may not be as popular as its now industrial level counterpart, lithium-ion. What’s good though is that it is a type of modern battery that has also been developed to promote much higher charge capacities in mind.

The catch? It is not as developed. As better as its capacity is compared to lithium-ion, lithium-sulfur batteries suffer from significant usability issues, simply because of the rapid degradation of its sulfur-based cathode. Though, one very interesting recent research reveals that a new stabilizing medium can be cheaply used: seaweed.

Held Together, Lasts Longer

Credit via Wikimedia Commons by StinaTano

Prior to the seaweed discovery, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have been experimenting with molecular binders. These specific binders are built to keep sulfur from dissolving when the cathode absorbs lithium in a discharge reaction, hence preventing the disastrously short life span of a typical lithium-sulfur battery.

To elaborate, lithium-sulfur batteries typically suffer from significant capacity fading, simply due to the fact that sulfur eventually dissolves when the battery is used, rendering it unusable far too soon compared to other standard batteries. The binder was made to “glue” the materials together as it reacts with battery’s discharge cycles.

Where does our seaweed come to, you ask? As it would have turned out, carrageenan, a type of seaweed that is processed to manufacture food thickeners, are capable of achieving the same effect. So yes, these wriggly seaweed are also able to keep lithium-sulfur batteries from literally breaking itself, by holding of the battery’s active materials much like the synthetic binder the researcher have created in the lab.

Lithium-sulfur batteries are 50 percent better at minimum than lithium-ion in terms of basic charge capacity alone. In terms of overall performance, they are about twice as better. While the binder may be manufactured in numbers to complement existing industry-grade lithium-sulfur batteries, the research hinted that costs are projected to be not efficient enough to compete with current batteries.

So if a new, cheaper method could be made to keep lithium-sulfur batteries together, then this could herald a new change in the battery technology industry. Not so much as a paradigm shift, but simply an old technology taken into the modern realm.

The Not So Vapor Tech

Credit via Berkeley Labs

Unlike many of the nebulous and rather crazy new battery technologies introduced and hyped as of late, lithium-sulfur batteries are already a tested concept, with even limited applications in the tech industry today. So, this isn’t your typical fusion energy-esque dream pipe technology. It is here now, and it only needs a bit more push in order to get it to be competitive in the mainstream tech market.

To this end, the researchers are now moving forward to help the seaweed binder do its job even better. By understanding the chemical reactions behind this new innovation, the team hopes to optimize what our mighty seaweed can do to improve further what it is already capable of excellently achieving.

Source: Berkeley Labs

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