delware environmental institute

Researchers report new approach to improving lithium-sulfur batteries

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are the power behind most modern portable electronics, including cell phones, tablets, laptops, fitness trackers, and smart watches. However, their energy density — that is, the amount of energy stored within a given amount of physical space, or mass — will need to be improved for these batteries to see widespread use in smart grid and electric transport applications.

In contrast, the energy density of lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries is five times higher than that of Li-ion batteries. That advantage, combined with low cost, suggests that this alternative technology shows promise for high-energy storage applications.

But the use of Li-S batteries is limited by a different problem: rapid capacity fade, which means that the amount of charge these batteries can deliver at the rated voltage decreases significantly with use.

Bingqing Wei, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Delaware, explains that this problem stems from a phenomenon known as the polysulfide shuttle effect, in which the spontaneous formation of polysulfides inhibits performance.