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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Explained: How the world’s most efficient lithium-sulfur battery works

The battery is capable of powering a smartphone for five continuous days — the equivalent of an electric car being able to drive a distance of over 1,000 km.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: January 9, 2020 8:16:33 am
World's most efficient lithium-sulfur battery, lithium-sulfur battery, Li-ion batteries, electric vehicles, electric vehicle batteries, indian express, indian express explained With Li-ion batteries, some disadvantages include their susceptibility to overheating and their being prone to damage at high voltages. (Reuters Photo)

Researchers from Australia have claimed that they have developed the world’s most efficient lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery, capable of powering a smartphone for five continuous days — the equivalent of an electric car being able to drive a distance of over 1,000 km.

To produce these batteries, the researchers have used prototype cells that have been manufactured by Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology. If the researchers are successful in commercialising these batteries, it could mean replacing the lithium-ion batteries used in most mobile phones, smartphones, tablets, laptops and power banks, among other devices.

What are lithium-sulfur batteries?

Researchers who have developed this new Li-S battery claim it has an “ultra-high capacity” and has better performance and less environmental impact. This means that they may be able to outperform the Li-ion batteries by more than four times.

With Li-ion batteries, some disadvantages include their susceptibility to overheating and their being prone to damage at high voltages. Such batteries also start losing their capacity over time — for instance, a laptop battery in use for a few years does not function as well as a new one.

While the materials used in the Li-S batteries are not different from those in Li-ion batteries, the researchers have reconfigured the design of the sulfur cathodes (a type of electrical conductor through which electrons move) to accommodate higher stress without a drop in overall capacity.

Furthermore, Li-S batteries are generally considered to be the successors of the Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries because of their lower cost of production, energy efficiency and improved safety. Their cost of production is lower because sulfur is abundantly available.

Even so, there have been some difficulties when it comes to commercialising these batteries, mainly due to their short life cycle and poor instantaneous power capabilities.

Also Read | Explained: Scientists announce Li-ion battery that ‘won’t catch fire’ — how will it work

Why is this development important?

As the market share of electric vehicles (EV) is increasing and people are becoming more aware and conscious of global warming and climate change, there is a need for development in terms of the kind of batteries used in these vehicles.

The growth of the EV market is linked to the development of batteries that are cost-effective, more efficient and leave a smaller environmental burden. Today, most EV use Li-ion batteries, but are slowly reaching their theoretical limits of being able to provide roughly up to 300-watt hour per kilogram of energy. Thus arises the need for batteries that can store more energy to run these cars, and Li-S batteries are considered to be a good alternative.

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