The charge towards better batteries

Batteries are central to the growing renewable-energy industry, but the most efficient commercial batteries often rely on precious metals, which can cause varying levels of harm to the environment. While a few large, safer batteries have made it to market, there’s still plenty of research required to make better batteries.

Two recent papers have opened the battery field further, with discoveries that could lead to safer and more efficient future power.

One paper, published in Communications Chemistry, describes a new type of sulphur that could be used in lithium-sulphur batteries.

These batteries use less precious material than traditional lithium-ion batteries, and could be more efficient. But there’s still a range of technical problems that have prevented them from getting to market – for instance, they degrade quickly when used at room temperature.

The researchers, who are based at Drexel University, US, have found that when stabilised with carbon nanotubes, the batteries’ phase of sulphur – called monoclinic gamma sulphur – can withstand the lithium-sulphur treatment at room temperature. The researchers were able to use this sulphur in a battery that lasted for 4000 cycles.

“This will enable a deeper understanding of the system facilitating the commercialisation of Li–S batteries,” write the authors in their paper.

In another study, a group of US researchers has developed a material that can discharge electricity quickly and efficiently, without causing extra danger to people.

Published in Science Advances, the paper describes a new type of “antiferroelectric” material, which could be very useful in devices where quick storage or discharge of energy is needed – such as in defibrillators. But as yet, most antiferroelectric materials contain lead, making them less useful.

The researchers, who are based at Cornell University, US, have made a lead-free antiferroelectric material. Created with electrostatic engineering, the material is made from bismuth, iron and oxygen instead.

In their paper, the researchers state that the material has a lot of potential to be a powerful capacitor.

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