Researchers from University of Waterloo might just have found the missing ingredient that kept lithium-sulfur batteries from becoming the one and only desired energy storage for electric vehicles. It is a nanomaterial that is cheap, light and efficient.
It is quite well established by now that although sulfur in lithium sulfur (Li-S) batteries ticks all the boxes when it comes to abundance, weight and costs, the reason why it has not yet made it in the electric automotive industry is the fact that it dissolves in the electrolyte very fast. Many scientists and research teams have been trying to find a solution, but one group in particular has managed to achieve much more than anyone else.
The research of Professor Linda Nazar from the Science faculty of University of Waterloo, has managed to publish more articles in the world-leading journal Nature over the past few years than others cannot even dream of in it their lifetime. Of course, in order to accomplish this, your research should be highly relevant to society, highly innovative and extremely accurate. Now, you will all agree that there is no better than exploring the use of nanomaterials for boosting the performance and bringing down the price of energy storage for electric vehicles.
The series of breakthrough discoveries by the team began back in 2009, when they released a key paper in the journal Nature Materials, demonstrating that nanomaterials have the potential to revolutionize Li-S batteries. The team continued with looking into using graphene, however the experiments led them to much greater discovery, that of using metal oxides, or metalic titanium oxides, to be more precise. This work was published last year in Nature Communications.
Not even half a year later, the team seems to have come across yet another major finding, this time involving nanosheets of manganese dioxide (MnO2), which are much better than titanium oxides, when used in Li-S batteries. In the paper published a few days ago in the latest issue of Nature Communications, the scientists describe the mechanism behind it.
Similarly to the Wackenroder’s Solution presented back in the 1845, the surface reaction of oxidation of the ultrathin MnO2 nanosheet allows a two-step recycling process of sulfides. The result is a huge boost in performance of the cathode, which sustains for more than 2000 recharge cycles. This breakthrough brings scientists much closer to developing the ultimate advanced material that will make electric vehicles the only desired mean of transport.
The team of course is not stopping here. They are now looking into other elements that behave in the same manner and retain sulfur the best. First on the list is graphene oxide. Let’s see how long before the next Nature publication by these guys makes the news.
Image (c) Nature Communications/ University of Waterloo