Major breakthrough in lithium battery technology reported

May 18, 2009

An NSERC-funded lab at the University Of Waterloo has laid the groundwork for a lithium battery that can store and deliver more than three times the power of conventional lithium ion batteries.

The research team of professor Linda Nazar, graduate student David Xiulei Ji and postdoctoral fellow Kyu Tae Lee are one of the first to demonstrate robust electrochemical performance for a lithium-sulphur battery. The finding is reported today in the on-line issue of .

The prospect of lithium-sulphur batteries has tantalized chemists for two decades, and not just because successfully combining the two chemistries delivers much higher energy densities. Sulphur is cheaper than many other materials currently used in . It has always showed great promise as the ideal partner for a safe, low cost, long lasting rechargeable battery, exactly the kind of battery needed for and transportation in a low emission energy economy.

"The difficult challenge was always the cathode, the part of the battery that stores and releases electrons in the charge and recharge cycles," said Dr. Nazar. "To enable a reversible electrochemical reaction at high current rates, the electrically-active sulphur needs to remain in the most intimate contact with a conductor, such as carbon."

The Canadian research team leap-frogged the performance of other carbon-sulphur combinations by tackling the contact issue at the nanoscale level. Although they say the same approach could be used with other materials, for their proof of concept study they chose a member of a highly structured and porous carbon family called mesoporous carbon. At the nanoscale level, this type of carbon has a very uniform pore diameter and pore volume.

Using a nanocasting method, the team assembled a structure of 6.5 nanometre thick carbon rods separated by empty three to four nanometre wide channels. Carbon microfibres spanning the empty channels kept the voids open and prevented collapse of the architecture.

Filling the tiny voids proved simple. Sulphur was heated and melted. Once in contact with the carbon, it was drawn or imbibed into the channels by capillary forces, where it solidified and shrunk to form sulphur nanofibres. Scanning electron microscope sections revealed that all the spaces were uniformly filled with sulphur, exposing an enormous surface area of the active element to carbon and driving the exceptional test results of the new battery.

"This composite material can supply up to nearly 80 percent of the theoretical capacity of sulphur, which is three times the energy density of lithium transition metal oxide cathodes, at reasonable rates with good cycling stability," said Dr. Nazar.

What is more, the researchers say, the high capacity of the carbon to incorporate active material opens the door for similar "imbibed" composites that could have applications in many areas of materials science.

The research team continues to study the material to work out remaining challenges and refine the cathode's architecture and performance.

Dr. Nazar said a patent has been filed, and she is reviewing options for commercialization and practical applications.

Source: Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

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User comments : 18

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cybrbeast
4.3 / 5 (6) May 18, 2009
Presto! no more hydrogen cars needed.
david_42
5 / 5 (5) May 18, 2009
Interesting, as Sion Power has just entered a collaboration with BASF after several years of being stalled with their LiSu technology. May all of them win.
jonnyboy
1 / 5 (4) May 18, 2009
Presto! no more hydrogen cars needed.


Really?

How are you going to recharge that electric vehicle of yours when it runs out of juice on the side of the road(middle of the desert,out in the woods, fill in your own remote location here)?



Great work here and a much needed improvement over existing technology, how expensive are these batteries going to be, how intricate is the manufacturing process, how durable to bumps and thumps is the new battery?
VOR
5 / 5 (2) May 18, 2009
agree hydrogen is toast. as long as quick charging is developed. hydrogen is an extra step, and harder to store, though it still has higher energy density Im sure. the infrastructure to recharge is already in place, not hydrogen. gee, how are you gonna recharge your hydrogen on side of road? duh.
John_balls
2.5 / 5 (2) May 18, 2009
Hydrogen has been toast. All they want to do is replace the liguid but keep the same infrastructure in place as the gas operators use. No thanks.
John_balls
3.7 / 5 (3) May 18, 2009
Presto! no more hydrogen cars needed.


Really?

How are you going to recharge that electric vehicle of yours when it runs out of juice on the side of the road(middle of the desert,out in the woods, fill in your own remote location here)?

Great work here and a much needed improvement over existing technology, how expensive are these batteries going to be, how intricate is the manufacturing process, how durable to bumps and thumps is the new battery?


Wow, we should just stop researching electric cars because someone might get stuck in a remote location. You know the same remote location that gas powered car can get stuck in.

Here some information for you 75-80% of american drive less then 40 miles a day. GM killed a electric car that got 70miles to a charge in 1996 without even using the latest generation batteries.

No, we don't need hydrogen.






Telsa sells a car that can get over 235 miles to a charge if the big 3 had the political will to do it they can do the same.
latersville
5 / 5 (1) May 19, 2009
One way to add back bits of charge while driving is to convert the kinetic energy to chemical energy whenever you brake. Another way may be to invent a solar voltaic paint. It could be done, don't you think?
Birger
5 / 5 (2) May 19, 2009
Converting the kinetic energy back to chemical energy would work fine for inner-city driving, but the components add to the total cost of the vechicle. Solar voltaic panels need a lot of surface area, but could be a good supplemental power source if you only drive short distances. I would like to know how many cycles of recharging this new technology will permit for each battery.
cybrbeast
4.5 / 5 (2) May 19, 2009
Presto! no more hydrogen cars needed.




Really?



How are you going to recharge that electric vehicle of yours when it runs out of juice on the side of the road(middle of the desert,out in the woods, fill in your own remote location here)?


You can't fill your gasoline car either. With a battery you could actually carry a photovoltaic cell on your roof. In the desert this might give you enough charge to make it out of it if you can wait a while.
DGBEACH
2 / 5 (1) May 19, 2009

You can't fill your gasoline car either. With a battery you could actually carry a photovoltaic cell on your roof. In the desert this might give you enough charge to make it out of it if you can wait a while.

Why not just add a bike-pedal under the floor, so you could pedal your way outta there...just pray you don't get any big hills -:)
tkjtkj
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2009

Really?
How are you going to recharge that electric vehicle of yours when it runs out of juice on the side of the road


(middle of the desert,out in the woods, fill in your own remote location here)?


Sounds like an opportunity for a new industry! Ya.. fleets of helicoptors 'armed' with 'drop chutes' of charged booster cells!
Now, thaT'd add to the 4million new jobs promised by Washington!
interactive_ace
1 / 5 (1) May 19, 2009
The question is how high can the battery lift itself and 700% of it's weight.
Ricochet
1 / 5 (1) May 22, 2009
The question is how high can the battery lift itself and 700% of it's weight.


Sheldon buzzes in and says, "The answer is, of course, a right triangle the hypotenuse of which is equal to the sum of the power ratio and the drag rating of the wheel bearings, divided by the barometric pressure....."
Soylent
3 / 5 (1) May 24, 2009
Really?

How are you going to recharge that electric vehicle of yours when it runs out of juice on the side of the road(middle of the desert,out in the woods, fill in your own remote location here)?


How is this a problem?

If you're so completely daft as to get stuck in the middle of nowhere, do what you'd do with hydrogen or gasoline vehicles and call emegency services; get your dumb ass towed out of there.
jshloram
4 / 5 (1) May 25, 2009
How are you going to recharge that electric vehicle of yours when it runs out of juice on the side of the road(middle of the desert,out in the woods, fill in your own remote location here)?


probably the same way we do it now: hike back to the charging station and then lug an emergency back-up battery, good for a few miles, enough miles to get you back to the charging station. No different than now. You know, horse owners were using the same augument against gasoline cars 100 years ago!
Ricochet
1 / 5 (1) May 29, 2009
You know, horse owners were using the same augument against gasoline cars 100 years ago!


Ahh, if they could only make cars run on water, grass, and oats...
CrowdedCranium
not rated yet Jun 03, 2009
Unlike Gasoline and Hydrogen powered autos every roadway has power transmition lines along the route. With the stroke of a pen, a simple emergency charging jack could be placed at the mile marker. Useage of same triggers an automatic report via IOPL message to roadway governing agency (City, County, State Police agencies). This same line of thought also opens the pike pass technologies to remote non emergency charging.

Over the last few years, to my recollection the longest auto trip was 400miles round trip with an overnight at a hotel on the halfway other end. Topp off the Gasoline on both ends. So, it really would not have been much different with the employment of a plugin electric like a Tesla roadster. The Hilton had a quick charging station so a "fill up" would have only taken less time than it took to get checked into a suite at the hotel. With the proper tax incentive every hotel, motel, notell coast to coast would be thrilled to add in features attractive to plugin electric and plugin hybrids such as the new competitor to Tesla the Fisker autos.

Perhaps Hydrogen has a place. But, it is still 20 years down the road.
Ricochet
not rated yet Jun 10, 2009
They could also have an emergency set of bike peddles...