Editorial Feature

Speeding Up Electric Vehicle Production and Adoption with Lithium-Sulfur Batteries

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Researchers at Monash University in Australia have developed a very high-performance and energy-efficient lithium-sulfur (Li-S) battery with a potential electric vehicle (EV) range of 1000 km.

Approximately 1.5 billion cars will be on the roads worldwide by 2025 (BASF, n.d.). This presents an urgent need to adopt green technologies to protect our environment and reduce the greenhouse contribution from the transportation sector, which is currently estimated to be around 23% worldwide (Iclodean, Varga, Burnete, Cimerdean, & Jurchiş, 2017). EV holds excellent potential for creating a more sustainable future, reducing the dependence on foreign oil and decreasing carbon pollution.

Battery System in Electric Vehicles

Since lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries first entered the market in 1991, they have been the most prominent choice in EV (Foundation, 2019). However, the definite limitation of Li-Ion in the field of energy storage, efficiency and safety issues have led researchers to seek possibilities in the Li-S battery, which theoretically can hold a charge capacity of six times that of Li-Ion batteries.

Li-ion’s previous reputation of damaging wires enabled Li-S batteries to avoid using hazardous cobalt, often used in Li-ion batteries.

While Li-S theoretically can outperform existing batteries, they tend to drop in performance capacity with higher stress loads. Monash University researchers used a unique method to create bonds between particles to accommodate stress and deliver a level of stability that is unprecedented for this type of battery (Montalbano, 2020).

Electric Vehicle Production

The electric vehicle was introduced more than 100 years ago, although it has gained popularity in the last decade. 

In the 1800s, innovators in Hungary, the Netherlands, and the United States brought in the concept of the first small-scale electric car, but it was not until the second half of the 19th century that French and English inventors built some of the first practical electric cars (Energy.Gov, 2014).

In the US, an electric car was first introduced around 1890 by William Morrison. It was able to run at 14 miles per hour.

Thomas Edison and Henry Ford later explored options for a low-cost electric car in 1914 (Strohl, 2010). However, widely available and affordable gasoline-powered cars that cost only $650 outsold an electric roadster, which cost around $1,750 at that time (Energy.Gov, 2014).

The discovery of Texas crude oil led to cheaper gas and EVs’ depletion by 1935. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the increase in oil prices and the shortage of gasoline prompted the US government to pass the Development and Demonstration Act of 1976, powering the Energy Department to support research and development in electric and hybrid vehicles. This increased the interest of many automakers to explore options for alternative fuel vehicles, including EVs.

The EV's real revival did not occur until around the late 20th century and the early 21st century. In 2000, Toyota released its version of the EV, Prius, using a nickel-metal hydride battery. It soon became popular with celebrities.

In 2006, a Silicon Valley startup, Tesla Motors, started producing a luxury electric sports car that traveled more than 200 miles on a single charge.

As gasoline prices continued to rise and innovations led to a drop in EV prices, they started to gain popularity (Energy.Gov, 2014). In 2019, electric cars accounted for 2.6% of global car sales, reaching 2.1 million sales with the continued development in charging infrastructure leading to approximately 7.3 million facilities worldwide (iea, 2020).

Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) Batteries

Li-S batteries have attracted considerable attention as having a much higher energy density in comparison to Li-Ion batteries. Another great advantage of Li-S batteries is the cost, which can be lower due to sulfur being a more abundant material than cobalt (Richardson, 2020).

The Li-S battery system has a redox reaction-based storage mechanism, which delivers higher energy density due to the formation of Li2S when sulfur combines with lithium.

The theoretical gravimetric energy density of a Li-S cell is approximately 2510 Wh/kg, which is much higher than traditional Li-ion batteries (Zhu, et al., 2019).

Li-S opens the opportunity to overcome Li-Ion battery technology's limitations and develop energy storage solutions that rely on cheaper and more abundant materials with a reduced environmental footprint (Monash University, 2020).

The Future of Li-S Batteries in Speeding Up Electric Vehicle Production

Automakers, such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rovers, have made a separate announcement on their commitment to fully electric or hybrid vehicles.

Ford has announced plans to greatly enhance its planned investments in EVs to $11 billion by 2022 (BASF, n.d.). Their commitment has rapidly revolutionized the industry, making the innovation of advanced battery materials the highest priority (BASF, n.d.).

Monash University’s scientists predict that their battery technology will be the world's most efficient Li-S battery. It could outperform current market leaders by more than four times. The battery would allow a phone to be used for five continuous days or enable an EV to drive more than 1000 km without the need to refuel (Monash University, 2020).

The team has received more than $2.5 million from government and industry partners, and their plan includes testing in cars and grids.

Clean Energy: World's most efficient lithium sulphur battery developed in Australia

Video Credit: Down To Earth/YouTube.com

References and Further Reading

BASF. (n.d.). BASF feels the need for electric-vehicle speed. [Online] BASF: https://www.basf.com/us/en/media/featured-articles/Automotive/EVs.html (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Energy.Gov. (2014). The History of the Electric Car. [Online] Energy.Gov: https://www.energy.gov/articles/history-electric-car (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Foundation, N. (2019). Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2019: Lithium-ion batteries. [Online] ScienceDaily: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191009082508.htm (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Hutchins, M. (2020). New chemistry promises better lithium sulfur batteries. [Online] pv magazine: https://www.pv-magazine.com/2020/06/22/new-chemistry-promises-better-lithium-sulfur-batteries/ (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Iclodean, C., Varga, B., Burnete, N., Cimerdean, D., & Jurchiş, B. (2017). Comparison of Different Battery Types for Electric Vehicles. IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering. doi:10.1088/1757-899X/252/1/012058

iea. (2020). Global EV Outlook 2020. [Online] iea: https://www.iea.org/reports/global-ev-outlook-2020 (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Monash University. (2020). Supercharging tomorrow: Monash develops world's most efficient lithium-sulfur battery. [Online] EurekAlert: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-01/mu-stm010120.php (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Montalbano, E. (2020). World's Most Efficient Lithium-Sulfur Battery Tested By Australian Scientists. [Online] DesignNews: https://www.designnews.com/electronics-test/worlds-most-efficient-lithium-sulfur-battery-tested-australian-scientists (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Richardson, J. (2020). Lithium-Sulfur Batteries Could Be Cheaper & More Energy Dense. [Online] Clean Technica: https://cleantechnica.com/2020/02/11/lithium-sulfur-batteries-could-be-cheaper-more-energy-dense/ (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Strohl, D. (2010). Ford, Edison and the Cheap EV That Almost Was. [Online] Wired: https://www.wired.com/2010/06/henry-ford-thomas-edison-ev/ (Accessed on 10 December, 2020)

Zhu, K., Wang, C., Chi, Z., Ke, F., Yang, Y., Wang, A., . . . Miao, L. (2019). How Far Away Are Lithium-Sulfur Batteries From Commercialization? Front. Energy Res. doi:10.3389/fenrg.2019.00123

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Dr. Parva Chhantyal

Written by

Dr. Parva Chhantyal

After graduating from The University of Manchester with a Master's degree in Chemical Engineering with Energy and Environment in 2013, Parva carried out a PhD in Nanotechnology at the Leibniz University Hannover in Germany. Her work experience and PhD specialized in understanding the optical properties of Nano-materials. Since completing her PhD in 2017, she is working at Steinbeis R-Tech as a Project Manager.

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