New sulphur chemistry: The potential key to greener batteries

sulphur chemistry

University of Adelaide researchers are developing the next generation of batteries, using sulphur chemistry to reduce their environmental impact. 

“Our innovative work on sulphur oxidation processes is pushing the boundaries of the design of the next generation of batteries,” University of Adelaide Centre for Materials in Energy and Catalysis director Professor Shizhang Qiao said. 

“Sulphur is an important electrode material in metal-sulphur batteries due to its abundance on Earth and its chemical properties, which may improve the capacity of batteries. Sulphur could provide the key to improving the energy capacity of commercial lithium-ion batteries.” 

Qiao and his team have demonstrated the reversible electrochemical oxidation of a sulphur cathode for the first time. They applied this new process into aluminium–sulphur batteries. 

“We have achieved the highest voltage output of an aluminium-sulphur battery – approximately 1.8 volts of steady power output – which is significantly greater than present technology, which can only achieve approximately 0.6 volts output,” Qiao said. 

“Aluminium-sulphur batteries cost much less than current commercial lithium-ion batteries as the materials used in them are low-cost and environmentally friendly chemicals.” 

Advances in chemical technology are reducing the environmental impact of batteries, but the demand for the chemicals that they contain, such as lithium, are having a severe impact in itself on the places where it is mined. 

“The diminishing availability of natural resources places constraints on traditional social and economic models, calling for new and sustainable options,” University of Adelaide deputy vice-chancellor for Research Professor Anton Middelberg said. 

“Fundamental research such as this undertaken at the University of Adelaide will have far-reaching benefits for society.” 

This innovative study of the sulphur oxidation process, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, benefits the understanding of sulphur chemistry. 

“Our research provides valuable inspiration for the design of other metal-sulphur batteries, not just ones that use aluminium-sulphur technology,” Qiao said. 

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