Sulfur-ion Batteries to be Cheaper, More Energy Dense


Sulfur Batteries

A new type of battery that both lithium and sulfur ions is currently being developed at the DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and it promises to outwit, outplay, and outlast the best batteries currently on the market, for a fraction of the cost. How big of a boost does sulfur give “conventional” lithium-ions? The lab’s researchers are reporting that their sulfur ion batteries have approximately four times the energy density of the lithium-ion batteries currently found in electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S.

The best part of all this is the cost-cutting. “Sulfur is practically free,” noted Chengdu Liang, the scientist who led the ORNL research team. “Not only does sulfur store much more energy than the transition metal compounds used in lithium-ion battery cathodes, but a lithium-sulfur device could help recycle a waste product into a useful technology. Our battery design has real potential to reduce cost … compared with existing lithium-ion technologies,” Mr. Liang concluded.

Although the technology is still in the demonstration stage, the team believes that the research can be quickly scaled for commercial applications. A patent on the design – which uses a solid electrolyte material (as opposed to the liquid electrolytes used in conventional batteries) as well as a new cathode and lithium anode for an energy-dense, all-solid battery – is currently pending.

Would a Chevy Spark with a 300-400 miles of range that costs under $20K be a winner? If Liang is right, we might soon find out!


Source | Photos: Oak Ridge National Laboratory, via Ecoseed.

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • UncleB

    Better, lower cost electric storage – the “Holy Grail” of the Science world today! Promises a share in the huge automotive markets of the world. America however, may be the ‘johnny come lately’ in this scene as they must first give up their ‘Cheap Oil Era’ fidelities brand faithfulness-es and habitual conditioning. – Asians have none of these, are recent to the picture, and will follow government and economics rulings in these matters – they can hardly lament the loss of the Straight Eight Detroit made Oldsmobiles can they – they never had them in the first place.

  • UKGary

    Now all that’s needed is a way to transfer the technology to Sodium Sulphur and you get rid of the other expensive ion in the battery – Lithium.

    • Jo Borras

      Good point!

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s not that much lithium in EV batteries and it doesn’t cost very much.

      There’s about 4kg of lithium in a LEAF battery pack.

      Prices for high-purity, battery-grade lithium hydroxide range from $6,000 to $7,000 per tonne

      That’s $6 to $7 per kg (1,000 kg in tonne) or $24 to $35 for the lithium in a Leaf.

      People got the wrong idea about the cost of lithium because they were looking at the price of small quantities, not bulk buys.

  • danwat1234

    Higher density but also higher weight, or the same weight? The model S with the 85KW packs weighs ~4700 pounds and that is why it’s city MPGe number is slightly less than the highway MPGe. The Spark EV weighs 3,000 pounds.

    • Jo Borras

      That’s not indicated, but energy density of a solid is much greater than that of a liquid, usually, which is what this is about. I wouldn’t imagine there’s much of a weight penalty, but let’s say it weighs twice as much at 400% better energy storage. That would double the effective with a battery that’s the same weight, but half the size, so you could package things better.

      As for the Spark EV being 3000 lbs., it’s also not half as nice, and the materials that set the Model S above it weigh a lot. That’s like comparing a Mercedes E-Class to a, well – a Chevy Spark!

      • danwat1234

        Yeah if there is an improvement in energy to weight and also of course energy to volume, that is good. The Chevy Spark is 3,000 pounds but the regular automatic spark is about 2,368 pounds so batteries weigh a lot. It would be best if EVs can get lighter with more range and more cargo space and fast-DC jacks becoming standard on all EVs.

        Looks like the i-MiEV is the lightest at 2,579 pounds but of course with it being so short the highway MPGe is only 99. Aptera should be even lighter if they ever are produced.

  • Markwbrooks

    yeah, like when did a geek from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory ever do anything useful? Its not like they build nukes , or solve other really complex material science related problems. I am sure that all that boo ha ha about building a light water reactor to power a US Navy sub was just a fluke.
    After all what can a group of patriotic geeks do on a tiny budget of only $2 billion a year in US government funding… I am sure they are just playing computer games all day on those world class super computers.