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Nanoparticle Leads to World Record for Battery Storage

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A new world record is in the books for battery technology. Thanks to a tiny particle resembling an egg yolk and shell, scientists have been able to dramatically increase lithium-ion battery storage capacity.

According to their paper in Nature Communications (published January 8*), researchers from Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory a new material described as a “sulfur-TiO2 yolk-shell nanoarchitecture with internal void space for long-cycle lithium-sulphur batteries.” This material can be used in the cathode of lithium-ion batteries to overcome a key obstacle that has stumped scientists for the past two decades.

This result – a fivefold increase in the amount of energy that can be stored in the battery (per unit of sulfur) plus a long life material that could revolutionize the rechargeable battery market.

According to Stanford’s Yi Cui, a researcher on the project that developed this material:

After 1,000 charge/discharge cycles, our yolk-shell sulfur cathode had retained about 70 percent of its energy-storage capacity. This is the highest performing sulfur cathode in the world, as far as we know…Even without optimizing the design, this cathode cycle life is already on par with commercial performance. This is a very important achievement for the future of rechargeable batteries.

Battery researchers have long known that sulfur could help to increase the storage capabilities of lithium-ion batteries. But, the combination of sulfur and lithium ions was problematic. In particular, how to allow the cathode to operate without the material simply dissolving with each charge.

This new nanoparticle’s structure prevents this problem by providing space between the sulfur (the egg-yolk) and its hard shell (a porous titanium oxide). This allows the combined sulfur-lithium compound to expand without cracking or dissolving.   This structure is shown in the pictures below:

References:

  1. Shi Wei She, Weiyang Li, Judy J. Cha, Guangyuan Zheng, Yuan Yang, Matthew T. McDowell, Po Chun, and Yi Cui. Nature Communications, Article number:1331 | doi:10.1038/ncomms2327 | Received 02 July 2012 | Accepted 23 November 2012 | Published 08 January 2013 (link)

*Note: Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group

H/T to IEEE Spectrum’s Dexter Johnson.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. CharlieinNeedham 12:12 am 01/29/2013

    IF “scientists have been able to dramatically increase lithium-ion battery storage capacity”….

    … and this pans out [and most "breakthroughs don't],

    then this really could be a boost for energy storage from non-carbon based sources (wind, solar) until peak energy use periods, and for a more reasonably cost efficient electric car.

    But, perhaps someone can answer my question.

    The author has cleverly pointed out “This result – a fivefold increase in the amount of energy that can be stored in the battery (per unit of sulfur)”.

    But later on the reseacher is quoted as “Even without optimizing the design, this cathode cycle life is already on par with commercial performance.”

    But sulfur is only one of many elements/compounds that is capable of acting as the cathode (with lithium in the anode).

    So my question is:

    Is this really a dramatic breakthrough compared to existing lithium battery design, or only a breakthrough for sulfur/lithium batteries?

    Or to put it another way:

    Even with a “fivefold increase in the amount of energy that can be stored in the battery (per unit of sulfur)”, does this represent a substantial potential for more energy storage compared to lithium batteries already in use using non-sulfur cathodes?

    “God is in the details.”
    So another question:
    Does anyone think the process of obtaining “sulfur-TiO2 yolk-shell nanoarchitecture with internal void space” sound like it can be taken to a manufacturing scale for a reasonable cost?

    [Anyone wonder when they swear you in for testimony in a court case you promise to tell the truth - THE WHOLE TRUTH?]

    Link to this
  2. 2. Carlyle 2:25 am 01/29/2013

    Gets tiresome dosen’t it? The other little detail was that the test was conducted at .5C from what I can make out.

    Link to this
  3. 3. bucketofsquid 12:20 pm 01/30/2013

    It would be nice if the various articles and blog posts did identify which ones are “Wow, look what we did” and which ones are actual improvements to commercially available everyday options.

    This seems to be a “wow” category post.

    Link to this
  4. 4. dbltapp 7:43 pm 02/2/2013

    Any chance there are equity plays surrounding this discovery?

    Link to this
  5. 5. Carlyle 2:59 am 02/4/2013

    Don’t waste your money.

    Link to this

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