Home Anthill Magazine On the cusp of a new age of battery technology

On the cusp of a new age of battery technology


Have you ever wished you could drive from Melbourne to Sydney on a single charge or only have to charge your phone once a week?

Simply by adding sugar, Australian researchers have built a stable, longer-lasting, lighter, more sustainable successor to the lithium-ion batteries essential for smartphones, computers, electric cars and future submarines.

For the past five years, Cleanfuture Energy, an Australian subsidiary of the Enserv Group Thailand and its sister subsidiary, Enserv Australia, have engaged Australian leading researchers in the hope of developing and manufacturing lithium-sulphur batteries to superseded current battery technologies. Adding to the benefit of this technology is Australia being the world’s largest producer of lithium. 

The research team, led by Monash University and assisted by CSIRO, report in today’s edition of Nature Communications that using a glucose-based coating on the positive electrode they have managed to stabilise lithium-sulfur battery technology, long touted as the basis for the next generation of batteries.

“In less than a decade, this technology could lead to vehicles including electric buses and trucks that can travel from Melbourne to Sydney without recharging. It could also enable innovation in delivery and agricultural drones where light weight is paramount,” says Professor Mainak Majumder, Associate Director of the Monash Energy Institute, and the lead corresponding author on the paper. 

In theory, lithium-sulfur batteries could store two to five times more energy than lithium-ion batteries of the same weight. The problem has been that, in use the electrodes deteriorated rapidly, and the batteries broke down. There were two reasons. The positive sulfur electrode suffered from substantial expansion and contraction weakening it and making it inaccessible to lithium, and the negative lithium electrode became contaminated by sulfur compounds.

Last year the research team demonstrated they could open the structure of the sulfur electrode to accommodate expansion and make it more accessible to lithium. Now, by incorporating sugar into the web-like architecture of the electrode they have stabilised the sulfur, thus preventing it from moving and blanketing the lithium electrode.

Test-cell prototypes constructed by the team have been shown to have a charge-discharge life of at least 1000 cycles, while still holding far more capacity than equivalent lithium-ion batteries. “So each charge lasts longer, extending the battery’s life,” says first author, PhD student, Yingyi Huang. “And manufacturing the batteries doesn’t require exotic, toxic, and expensive materials.”

Enserv Group Founder and Chairman, Mr Tanachat Pochana says, “Enserv’s ultimate goal is to be a world leader in renewable energy innovations. Lithium Sulphur batteries and future evolutions of this technology hold the key to revolutionising energy storage. We are now on the cusp of unveiling a new battery that is more efficient, energy dense and cleaner for the world than lithium ion.”

“We are now on the cusp of unveiling a new battery that is more efficient, energy dense and cleaner for the world than lithium ion.”

Enserv Australia hopes to develop and manufacture the batteries in Australia, the world’s largest producer of lithium.  “We would be looking to use the technology to enter the growing market for electric vehicles and consumer electronic devices,” says Mark Gustowski, Managing Director of Enserv Australia. “We plan to make the first lithium-sulfur batteries in Australia using Australian lithium within about five years adding to our sovereign manufacturing capability and developing new skills in the sector.”

The work has also been supported by the Commonwealth Government through the Australian Research Council and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.

The Enserv Group

Enserv is an energy research and innovation company headquartered in Bangkok. It comprises two core businesses: Clean Energy Innovation and Clean Energy Generation.

Monash Energy Institute

The Monash Energy Institute is a collective of researchers which aims to find solutions to future energy demands.