Lithium sulphur battery research on track for large-scale success

Lithium Sulphur (Li-S) batteries have existed since the 1960s, however the technology has proven difficult to mass-produce on a large scale due to the battery’s safety issues and short lifespan.

But this is about to change.

Institute for Frontier Materials (IFM), in partnership with Australian listed company Li-S Energy Limited and BNNT Technology Limited, is well advanced in the development of an exciting and innovative new lithium sulphur battery using the advanced nanomaterial called Boron Nitride Nanotubes (BNNTs).  This Li-S battery technology has the power to change the way we live – imagine charging your phone only once a week or owning an electric vehicle that can travel for 1000km on a single charge.

Developing the Li-S battery has been more than 10 years in the making for IFM’s Nanotechnology team led by Alfred Deakin Professor Ying (Ian) Chen, including Dr Baozhi Yu, Dr Ye Fan, Nick Edghill, Peter Herwig, and the team’s many support staff.

IFM Research Fellow Dr Baozhi Yu says IFM’s research has demonstrated that using BNNTs, Li-S batteries have a significantly extended cycle life and the potential to scale to achieve a high energy density, both essential characteristics for future EV’s and advanced aerospace applications.

‘Li-S batteries have much higher energy density than traditional Li-ion batteries, but the polysulfide shuttle effect and dendrite growth in Li-S batteries have, until now, inhibited their adoption in commercial applications,’ he says.

‘Boron Nitride Nanotubes and our new nano-composite, Li-nanomesh, have excellent mechanical and electrochemical behaviour, which improve the performance of Li-S batteries by inhibiting the polysulfide shuttle effect and lithium dendrite growth.

‘The future of clean energy and combating climate change is heavily reliant on battery technology taking a massive leap forward.  With Li-S batteries incorporating BNNT technology we can achieve long-life, stable cycling and high-energy density, giving us the potential to deliver the future battery chemistry that our planet needs.’

In 2018, the Nanotechnology team embarked on its first, crucial joint venture with BNNT Technology Ltd. With its product plant based at Deakin’s ManuFutures facilities, BNNT Technology Ltd was able to use the Nanotechnology team’s patented technology to produce commercial quantities of high-purity BNNTs. The BNNTs were then used for the research and development of the Li-S project.

As the project gained momentum, PPK Group Ltd joined the venture to commercialise the patented LiS battery technology and, working with the University, formed Li-S Energy Limited.

Now, using IFM’s Li-S battery project laboratory and a new facility in ManuFutures, Li-S Energy Ltd is scaling up the LiS battery technology to build battery packs for applications such as electronic devices, drones, electric vehicles and energy storage systems.

Interest in the project continues to gain momentum. In 2021, Li-S Energy Limited made its debut on the ASX with a market capitalisation reaching over  $1.7 billion on listing – a clear demonstration of the opportunity in the market for advanced battery systems.

The team leader Professor Ian Chen commented that the results are the culmination of 10 years of research by the whole team into the development of the patented Li-S battery technology and the mechanisms by which the electrochemistry can be influenced by advanced nanomaterials.

‘The belief and investment in the research program from Li-S Energy Ltd has now enabled us advance our research and development toward a commercial outcome that will make a profound contribution to the global fight against climate change,’ he says.