Cranfield research is contributing to the development of a new generation of battery technologies required for a future of sustainable electric transport.
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The lithium-sulfur battery study is part of a new £29 million UK energy storage research program financed by The Faraday Institution.
A Lighter Battery Option for Vehicles
Lithium-sulfur batteries have several advantages over current lithium-ion battery technology. The availability of lithium-sulfur batteries will result in a lighter vehicle choice, which is essential for the electrification of short-haul aircraft and light goods vehicles.
Today’s usual lithium-ion batteries produce roughly 250-watt hours per kg of mass, but lithium-sulfur batteries are predicted to yield 400–600 watt-hours per kg. At this point, experts believe lithium-sulfur technology will be less expensive for the industry and consumers.
The constituent elements of lithium-sulfur batteries dramatically reduce reliance on rare minerals—the types of “conflict materials” that are frequently only available from countries with major concerns about human rights and labor conditions.
Potential Huge Value to a Spectrum of Industries
With the ongoing surge towards electrification, there’s a need for a range of battery technologies and options for development. While still playing an important role, lithium-ion batteries have begun to reach their limit in terms of performance improvements. Lithium-sulfur is one of the emerging alternatives that is closest to being commercially available.
Dr. Daniel Auger, Research Lead and Reader, Electrification, Automation and Control, Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre, Cranfield University
Dr. Daniel Auger adds, “Lithium-sulfur batteries are going to be of real value, for example, for aircraft, where fuel load is everything; for light goods vehicles, allowing them to have more capacity and not tip over into the 7.5 ton category. But also for passenger vehicles, the lighter battery means less energy is needed for acceleration and to overcome rolling resistance. A whole spectrum of industries is going to be interested in the qualities of the new batteries.”
Cranfield to Develop Sophisticated Battery Management System
The LiSTAR research project, guided by University College London and involving the universities of Birmingham, Coventry, Cambridge, Imperial College London, Nottingham, Oxford, Southampton, and Surrey, focuses on maximizing the potential of lithium-sulfur technology, including issues such as energy density and cell lifetime, by investigating the best performing materials.
The Cranfield group, headed by Daniel Auger, is working on establishing a comprehensive battery management system that will provide correct information on charge levels as well as insights into how vehicle operation affects battery life. The investigation will also include performing simulations to model the battery’s behavior in various vehicle types.
This work is important because understanding what is happening inside a lithium-sulfur battery is harder than with lithium-ion. There is just the one stage of electrochemical processes in lithium-ion, but four in lithium-sulfur. The charge is also very ‘flat’, meaning there are regions of the battery where it is very difficult to ‘see’ the charge. We have to look for different kinds of indicators of what’s happening.
Dr Daniel Auger, Research Lead and Reader, Electrification, Automation and Control, Advanced Vehicle Engineering Centre, Cranfield University
The LiSTAR project’s second phase commences in April 2023, building on existing university research on the technology, with results expected in two years.
Program to Invest in Most Promising Battery Research Initiatives
The Faraday Institution program involves six battery research initiatives intended to lead to commercial products and ventures, like prolonging battery life, improving safety, recycling and reuse, and novel battery technologies like lithium-sulfur and “solid-state” batteries (using solid electrodes and electrolyte rather than a liquid).
The Faraday Institution is committed to identifying and investing in the most promising and impactful battery research initiatives. This project refocusing is an important part of that process, and allows us to direct even more effort towards those areas of research that offer the maximum potential of delivering societal, environmental, and commercial impact.
Pam Thomas, Professor and CEO, Faraday Institution
“Growing the battery industry is vital to positioning the UK as the best location in the world to manufacture electric vehicles. This funding will help businesses become more innovative and productive, helping to create more skilled, high-wage jobs across the UK, future-proofing our economy and supporting our ambition towards a cleaner, greener future,” notes Business and Trade Minister Nusrat Ghani.