Researchers develop less expensive lithium batteries

Material science and engineering professor Kyeongjae Cho (left) and research associate Jeongwoon Hwang developed a less expensive and more efficient battery. Photo by Noah Whitehead | Photo Editor.


UTD researchers teamed up to develop a new class of battery, proven to be efficient and long-lasting.

For over a year, material science and engineering professor Kyeongjae Cho, along with research associate Jeongwoon Hwang, worked on developing a method to stabilize a lithium-sulfur battery that they believe to be the potential alternative to lithium-ion batteries, commonly found in smartphones and tablets today. Recently, the scientific research done by the two engineering faculty members has received acclaim, as a post about their research reached the front page of Reddit.

“(Lithium-ion battery) is reaching the limit. You cannot squeeze any more out of that material,” Cho said. “Something new has to happen and one of the most promising candidates is lithium-sulfur.”

In comparison to conventional batteries, this new type of battery is less expensive, more environmentally friendly and more efficient in storing energy, Cho said. However, it contains sulfur, a material that is not present in traditional batteries, and it is unstable, meaning it cannot be integrated into devices for practical use.

“How to make lithium sulfur battery stable — that’s the question that not just us, but the whole community, is trying to figure out,” Cho said.

Cho and Hwang discovered a 2-dimensional material that can be used to make a coating around the sulfur battery to help it show consistent behavior. Hwang said she was initially unfamiliar with batteries, but got involved with the project because her main work involves studying 2-D materials. The atomically thin coating helps to enhance the stability and keep all of the good qualities of lithium-sulfur batteries, such as the lightweight and good conductivity.

This new technology could improve the battery life of more than just our mobile phones and tablets, Cho said. Because lithium-sulfur battery has much higher capacity than other batteries, it may be useful for bigger scale energy storage, such as electric vehicles and renewable energy communities.

“Right now, renewable energy communities just throw away the excess energy generated because the cost of battery for storing the energy would be too expensive,” Cho said. “If a high-capacity, low-cost battery like what we are developing becomes practically available, renewable energy storage would be more efficient.”

Cho said he and Hwang were fortunate that they were able to push the boundary and successfully publish their work when they did. Everyone in the same research field knows the latest developments as they unfold, thanks to the advancements in technology.

“This is the nature of current research. It’s very dynamic and rapidly evolving,” Cho said. “If we had been sitting on this for another year, someone else might have done it before us. They might have even done the same thing.”

Though there has been interest from individuals from the industry to commercialize this technology, the researchers will be spending more time to further develop their work. Cho said that he and Hwang have addressed one problem and will be working to improve the stability of the battery even more.

“We are pushing the boundary of the technology, but commercialization is a bit premature,” Cho said. “But hopefully in five to 10 years, we can see it happen.”


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