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A Fortuitous Discovery Might Transform the World

Published Fri, Apr 29 2022 13:41 pm
by The Silicon Trend





A Fortuitous Discovery Might Transform the World

As each day passes by, novel technology revolution or accidental discoveries never fails to amuse us. The process is spontaneous that it seems to appear from thin air, completely transforming our world. Some fortuitous revolutionary discoveries are Penicillin, X-ray Machines, and Microwaves. The year 2022 is no different. However, this time it not only revolutionizes the way we power the world but potentially saves our planet from menacing climate change by unlocking an elusive tech, 'Lithium-sulfur Batteries.'


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The downside of Lithium-ion Batteries

Researchers have been working hard to find the best tech to power our modern way of living and enable cleantech, such as electric vehicles. Since the early 90s, the battery tech of choice has been Lithium-ion - powering everything from mobile phones and Tesla to energy grip backup facilities and satellites.

Though they brought us to the latest tech era, it poses some severe impacts. 

  1. The materials needed to develop Lithium-ion, like cobalt, are environmentally damaging to mine. They tear down massive ecosystems and drain toxic chemicals.

  2. It causes a lifestyle problem. Our generation of people demands swift charging times from mobile devices to electric cars. However, people with a smartphone will tell you that the batteries can quickly lose capacity if you constantly charge them quickly. 

  3. This is mainly for the EV world, which is battery degradation. Second, EVs can sometimes be ineffective if the battery is spent, which will cost a leg to replace. Overall, this is slowing down EV adoption, and the electronic waste will only exacerbate.

  4. Lithium-ion being relatively energy-dense, they are still heavy, massive, and bulky. This limits electric vehicles' range as the batteries are rich, making it unfeasible for few applications such as commercial ships and electric planes.

  5. The batteries have fire issues, i.e., a damaged cell can easily catch fire and burn intensely.


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Novel Battery Type: Lithium-sulfur

Considering several down-side of Lithium-ion batteries, researchers at Drexel were looking into a brand-new battery type: Lithium-sulfur, which is ecologically less harmful material, cheap, lighter battery, and, moreover, less likely to catch fire. But this has one big problem: Lithium-ion batteries can be used for over 2K charge cycles, while Lithium-sulfur is limited to over half that. So, after proper use of a year or two, the Lithium-sulfur battery is dead.

To solve this, the Drexel team tried new lithium-sulfur methods by transforming compounds in its cathode. Their objective was to slow down the chemical reaction that creates polysulfides when the battery charges and discharges. These crystals take sulfur out of the electrode and cause a considerable loss of capacity. 

But what's the spine-chilling accidental discovery is that the scientists found a chemical stage of sulfur that ceases battery degradation. This is called monoclinic gamma-phase sulfur, which is seen only at high temperature; however, it's the first time seen at room temperature. The new stage of sulfur has other perks, such as minimizing battery expansion and enhancing safety margins. However, being an accidental discovery, scientists are unaware of why this phase is created and how to ensure it stays that way. Hence further research is required to answer them.


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