New lithium-sulphur battery charges in minutes not hours

Nanotechnology researchers have shown that their next-generation lithium-sulphur batteries can charge in less than 5 minutes.

Lithium-sulphur (Li||S) batteries are a type of lithium-ion battery with a sulphur cathode. They have been of interest since the 1960s for energy storage and research into this low-cost alternative has peaked since the 2000s.

According to theory, these devices could pack more than twice the energy of existing commercial batteries, with an energy of 550 Watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg) compared to existing batteries with an energy density of about 150–250 Wh/kg.

The high-power capabilities make Li||S batteries a promising technology for electronic devices including electric vehicles, as well as large-scale energy storage applications including in power grids.

A significant drawback of current lithium-sulphur batteries is the long time it takes them to discharge and charge. A single full charge-discharge cycle can take between 1 to 10 hours.

The University of Adelaide team examined the sulphur reduction reaction which governs the charge-discharge rate of Li||S batteries to improve this rate. Their research is in a paper published in Nature Nanotechnology.

 “We investigated various carbon-based transition metal electrocatalysts, including iron, cobalt, nickel, copper and zinc during the SRR,” says senior author Professor Qiao.

Qiao’s team designed a nanocomposite electrocatalyst made up of clusters of a carbon material and cobalt-zinc (CoZn).

“When the electrocatalyst CoZn is used in lithium-sulphur batteries, the resulting battery achieves an exceptional power-to-weight ratio,” Qiao explains. “Our research shows a significant advancement, enabling lithium-sulphur batteries to achieve full charge/discharge in less than 5 minutes.”

Professor in white shirt in front of microscope in lab
Professor Shizhang Qiao. Credit: University of Adelaide.

High-powered lithium-sulphur batteries are already used in devices such as mobile phones, laptops and electric vehicles.

But this study, for the first time, has set out to systematically tackle the problem of Li||S batteries’ slow charge-discharge rates.

“Our breakthrough has the potential to revolutionise energy storage technologies and advance the development of high-performance battery systems for various applications,” says Qiao.

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