Oh man, there's another one of these studies on electric vehicle batteries that sounds too good to be true. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers are working on a breakthrough in lithium sulfur EV battery technology that could increase energy density to four times that of current lithium cells. The demonstrable discharge/charge cycle is estimated to last through 1,500 cycles, which means that a car using this tech could theoretically go something like 450,000 miles without requiring a new battery. Unless something else changes in a dramatic fashion, a future lithium sulfur battery would easily outlast the car. Better yet, sulfur is very cheap and so the cost of a battery capable of going about 300 miles on a charge could finally become affordable to a lot more consumers.

You knew there was a rub, right?

Here's the rub (you knew there was a rub, right?). The research is still in the early test phase, and the team has only just created bench-top button cells. They think it will take five years to scale up the technology to make automotive cells, and several more years after that to reach a level where commercial production is possible. But there's more: the researchers need to understand the influence of high and low temperatures on the chemistry. All of this could take even longer than expected, which is something we're familiar with in the future-battery world. Researchers have been on the cusp of increasing lithium sulfur capacity fourfold for a few years now, for example, but it has yet to happen.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 25 Comments
      Joeviocoe
      • 1 Day Ago
      2 Wheel Menace, release him!
      danfred411
      • 1 Day Ago
      hehe
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Day Ago
      Yeah, but the difference is that these guys actually have a working cell. You can set your goals all kinds of high, but what's impressive is when you start meeting them.
      Andrew Berardinelli
      I hope the sulfur they are researching is not the hydrogen sulfur variety...that stuff is stinky. And if they are, I hope they figure out a way to neutralize the smell.
        • 1 Day Ago
        @Andrew Berardinelli
        Pretty sure it's not Hydrogen Suflide. Hydrogen Sulfide only stinks at a few ppm. at as little as 500ppm you quickly pass out and die. If you smell Hydrogen Sulfide that is a good thing because when you stop smelling it, it may be because the concentration has increased enough to numb your sense of smell... unconsciousness and death are not far behind.
      Tysto
      • 1 Day Ago
      I've got this idea I'm kicking around. Thinking of writing it as a screenplay like next year. Maybe try to sell it, if it's any good. Maybe get picked up and produced. I don't know. Early planning stages really. Autoblog: REGULAR READER WORKING ON SCREENPLAY THAT COULD BE HIGHEST-GROSSING OF DECADE
        2 wheeled menace
        • 1 Day Ago
        @Tysto
        I get it.. you don't understand the nature of this research because autobloggreen presented it so poorly. So you think it's another pie in the sky battery article.. Summary: battery that is twice as energy dense as the most dense lithium cell that used to last ~3 cycles can now last >1000 cycle with the addition of some materials that protect it's internals from rapid decay.. get it? :)
          CoolWaters
          • 1 Day Ago
          @2 wheeled menace
          The battery market has a track record of 15-20% improvement yearly. It just doesn't make it to CNN.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Day Ago
          @2 wheeled menace
          Still 5+ years away from possible commercial production, if everything works the way they theorize. I wish them luck, but we'll see.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 1 Day Ago
          @2 wheeled menace
          "Battery innovation is improving around 5 to 8 percent per year, which can deliver a doubling in core performance metrics every ten years..." http://gigaom.com/2013/02/10/how-battery-improvements-will-revolutionize-the-design-of-the-electric-car/
      danfred411
      • 1 Day Ago
      About time they got their asses in gear although I don't have a lot of faith in solutions from them
      Letstakeawalk
      • 1 Day Ago
      Those slackers at Lawrence Berkely, poofters. Only 4x the density? The guys at the DoE's Joint Center for Energy Storage at Argonne are working on *5x* the density, at 1/5 the cost, within 5 years. AKA the "5-5-5" plan. "Based out of Argonne National Laboratory, the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), DOE’s Energy Innovation Hub, focused on advanced batteries and energy storage, was awarded late last year. With up to $120 million in funding from the DOE’s Office of Science, JCESR’s goal is to create batteries with five times the energy density of today’s batteries at one-fifth the cost—and to achieve this within five years." http://www.jcesr.org/
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Day Ago
      Took a while, but i think i found the actual source article. Pretty stale. It's from November. http://eetd.lbl.gov/news/article/57182/holistic-cell-design-by-berkele Highlights: "Development of the lithium-sulfur battery also has its challenges. During discharge lithium polysulfides tend to dissolve from the cathode in the electrolytes and react with the lithium anode forming a barrier layer of Li2S. This chemical degradation is one reason why the cell capacity begins to fade after just a few cycles. Another problem with Li/S batteries is that the conversion reaction from sulfur to Li2S and back causes the volume of the sulfur electrode to swell and contract up to 76 percent during cell operation, which leads to mechanical degradation of the electrodes. As the sulfur electrode expands and shrinks during cycling, the sulfur particles can become electrically isolated from the current collector of the electrode." Here's the cool part: "The ( new chemistry of ) battery initially showed an estimated cell-specific energy of more than 500 Wh/kg and it maintained it at >300 Wh/kg after 1,000 cycles—much higher than that of currently available lithium-ion cells, which currently average about 200 Wh/kg. "It's the unique combination of these elements in the cell chemistry and design that has led to a lithium-sulfur cell whose performance has never been achieved in the laboratory before—long life, high rate capability, and high cell-level specific energy," says Cairns. The team is now seeking support for the continuing development of the Li/S cell, including higher sulfur utilization, operation under extreme conditions, and scale-up. Partnerships with industry are being sought." 500whr/kg and >1,000 cycle life? imagine if they could find out a way to improve on this. 500whr/kg for an even longer period of it's life would be a bombshell. Twice as dense as the best cell used in the Tesla cars. So imagine your Model S having the same battery weight, but a 500 mile range. Or since the Nissan Leaf having the same battery weight, but having a 225 mile range. ( it has lower density batteries ) Let's hope this isn't a dead end and has more potential..
        Joeviocoe
        • 1 Day Ago
        @2 wheeled menace
        It is exciting to think about... but you cannot put a timetable on discovery. It may happen tomorrow...it may happen never. I am excited for the fact that there are so many pathways to better BEVs. Lithium Air, Aluminum-Air, Solid state, Sulfur, UltraCaps... etc. Something will eventually come to pass.
      markrogo
      • 1 Day Ago
      So as with every battery breakthrough article, this is 10 years from real and therefore pretty easy to ignore. Now, with that appropriate skepticism laid aside, lithium-sulfur is one of the few chemistries that has any chance of supplanting today's lithium-ion chemistry. It's close enough that building cells based on it can be imagined... Keep in mind we basically need 2x the density of today at half the price per kw/hour with perhaps 2x the life. More than those numbers is nice to have, but none of it is need to have.
        jeff
        • 1 Day Ago
        @markrogo
        As soon as I read 5,10 or 20 years away, I quite reading.... It is always 5,10 or 20 years away and they never show up. When you read "starting production" etc... then at least it is a 50/50 chance they will become viable...
          skierpage
          • 1 Day Ago
          @jeff
          Stop exaggerating. Research is hard and development is harder so it's not surprising that many breakthroughs "never show up". But the improvements in lithium-ion batteries in the 20 years since Sony and Asahi Kasei released the first one have been steady and pretty damn impressive. Just 12% improvement a year will get us batteries 3× better a decade from now.
        archos
        • 1 Day Ago
        @markrogo
        If you hadn't noticed every major advancement thats disruptive to entrenched corporate interests gets the "10 years away" treatment. Whether it be solar, biofuel production, cures for aids, anti-aging, even fusion power. For some reason only fuel cell cars are always around the corner. Ironic.
      2 wheeled menace
      • 1 Day Ago
      Ay, we never know. But i've seen hobbyists in the ebike world go from running crappy NiCad to super volatile RC Lipo packs to LG D1/Panasonic/Samsung 18650 packs in just 5 years - what we have been running has quadrupled in watt hours per KG, thus is very light.. and also much safer and less toxic. I think that battery innovation will continue at this level, with so many players pushing for a better battery these days. The gas price scare of 2008 really got the EV world re-ignited, and the flame is still going. If you asked me 5 years ago about whether i thought a car like the Tesla Model S would be a reality, i'd laugh at you and say that we still have a way to go.. another 10 years. I'm excited too. Waiting is the hard part.. :)
      Bryan Lund
      • 1 Day Ago
      It still is somewhat exciting technology when you compare it to what we have now. Some of us might be dead and gone before or if it ever makes it in to production, but I'm all for continued research in to it to bring it to fruition.
      Marcopolo
      • 1 Day Ago
      @ Joeviocoe Yes, I agree. With so much, and such diverse, research, it's very reasonable to suppose that ESD development is due for radical improvements.
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