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Better Batteries from Waste Sulfur

Posted on: 04/28/2013
Transforming waste sulfur into lightweight plastic that could lead to better batteries for electric cars is possible through a new chemical process, reports a University of Arizona research team. The team's discovery could provide a new use for the sulfur left over when oil and natural gas are refined into cleaner-burning fuels. Although there are some industrial uses for sulfur, the amount generated from refining fossil fuels far outstrips the current need for the element.

Next-generation lithium-sulfur, or Li-S, batteries, have the potential to be more efficient, lighter and cheaper than batteries currently in use.

The researchers have dubbed their process "inverse vulcanization" because it requires mostly sulfur with a small amount of an additive. Vulcanization is the chemical process that makes rubber more durable by adding a small amount of sulfur to rubber.

The researchers report that the new plastic performs better in Li-S batteries than the elemental sulfur currently used for them, because batteries with cathodes made of elemental sulfur can be used and recharged only a limited number of times before they fail. The researchers also note that the new plastic has electrochemical properties superior to those of elemental sulfur. The team's batteries exhibited high specific capacity (823 mAh/g at 100 cycles) and enhanced capacity retention.

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