“Our research demonstrates the potential of using industrial paper-mill by-products to design sustainable, low-cost electrode materials for lithium-sulphur batteries.”
A by-product of paper production, lignosulfonate, could be used to power the next generation of batteries, after a US technological research university said it has found a way to harness the 'positive' qualities of the substance to create rechargeable lithium-sulphur cells.
The research team behind it, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, has so far created a prototype the size of a watch battery that can be recharged around 200 times. Should the ability to significantly upsize the battery come to fruition, the patented power cell could be used to power large data centres and would also offer a cost-efficient energy-storage option for the power grids that provide the public with electricity.
Lithium-sulphur batteries offer big advantages to the more commonly known lithium-ion cells, which are widely used in technology such as tablets and smartphones, as that they can produce double the amount of energy for the same mass. It’s this attribute that makes them potentially viable for storing large amounts of energy for microgrids and electric grids.
Lignosulfonate, a syrupy brown substance, would also offer environmental benefits because it would put an end to the traditional practice of burning it off, a process that releases CO2 into the atmosphere. Before it is used in the lithium-sulphur battery, the lignosulfonate is dried and then heated to approximately 700 °C.
“Our research demonstrates the potential of using industrial paper-mill by-products to design sustainable, low-cost electrode materials for lithium-sulphur batteries,” said Trevor Simmons, a Rensselaer (@rpi) research scientist, who developed the technology with the Center for Future Energy Systems (CFES).
Among the biggest challenges of making the battery a success is the ability to use sulphur safely, as it is liable to dissolving inside the battery due to its instability, thus making the battery useless. In its elemental form, sulphur is nonconductive – meaning it unable to conduct electricity – but when combined with carbon at increased temperatures it gives it the conductivity that enables it to generate power. To overcome this problem and requires the use of an inert substance, preventing the breakdown of the sulphur and creating a battery that holds its charge as reliably as lithium-ion alternatives.
“In repurposing this biomass, the researchers working with CFES are making a significant contribution to environmental preservation while building a more efficient battery that could provide a much-needed boost for the energy storage industry,” said Martin Byrne, director of business development at CFES.
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