New discovery could make super batteries that last longer and cost less

Different reaction pathways from lithium polysulfide (Li₂S₆) to lithium sulfide (Li₂S) in lithium-sulfur batteries with (left) and without (right) catalyst in sulfur cathode. Credit: Argonne National Laboratory.

Have you ever wished your phone or electric car’s battery could last longer or be cheaper?

Well, scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have made a big discovery that could make this wish come true.

These scientists have been studying a special kind of battery called a lithium-sulfur battery.

Compared to the lithium-ion batteries we commonly use in our gadgets and cars, lithium-sulfur batteries can hold a lot more power in the same amount of space.

This means electric cars could drive longer distances on a single charge. These batteries are also cheaper to make because sulfur is easy to find and affordable.

Best of all, these batteries don’t need materials like cobalt and nickel, which are not only expensive but could also become scarce.

Despite all these advantages, there’s been a big problem: these batteries didn’t last very long.

When you charged and drained them over and over, they started to lose their power pretty quickly.

This happened because the sulfur in the battery would dissolve and mess up the rest of the battery’s structure.

Scientists have been scratching their heads over how to fix this issue for years.

Gui-Liang Xu, a chemist at Argonne, and his team made a discovery that could be a game-changer.

They found that adding a tiny bit of a special material (called a catalyst) to the battery changes the way it behaves. This small change stopped the sulfur from dissolving and ruining the battery.

This discovery was like solving a mystery; the scientists used special X-ray techniques and even a brand-new method developed at Xiamen University to understand what was really going on inside these batteries.

This breakthrough could make lithium-sulfur batteries a real option for the future.

Imagine electric cars that can go much further before needing a recharge, or smartphones that you only have to charge every few days. Plus, these batteries could be a lot cheaper and better for the environment.

Gui-Liang Xu said they’re not stopping here. They plan to keep researching to make these batteries even better. They’re also curious to see if this new understanding can help improve other kinds of next-gen batteries, like sodium-sulfur batteries.

So, thanks to this new research, we might be on the path to having super batteries that are not just powerful and cheap, but also long-lasting. A brighter, more sustainable future for our gadgets and cars could be just around the corner!

The team included scientists from different universities and countries, showing that when smart people work together, amazing things can happen.

Keep an eye on this space; these super batteries could be powering your life sooner than you think!

The study was published in Nature.

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