Growing Sulfur Batteries From Crystals – Chemical Engineering


By Mary Page Bailey |

Pressure on demand for critical battery metals is forcing manufacturers to seek out alternative materials. The high thermal stability and abundance of sulfur make it a promising emerging material for batteries. A new class of solid-state lithium-sulfur batteries developed by Theion GmbH (Berlin, Germany; www.theion.de) are produced using principles similar to semiconductor manufacturing in a proprietary printing/ direct crystal implantation (DCi) that significantly reduces the cost and energy needed to produce batteries compared to typical lithium-ion batteries (LIBs).

For its lithium-sulfur cathode technology, Theion is developing polycrystalline sulfur wafers with hierarchical porosity of up to 15% directly from molten sulfur using carbon nanotubes or graphene seed crystal carriers. “We apply a high-voltage electric field to induce the growth of a sulfur platelet with matched porosity by targeting defect sites present on suitable seed carriers as nucleation points at which one-dimensional nano-sulfur settles. form first. Then, as the process propagates along the seed carriers, crystal twinning and branching occurs,” says Marek Slavik, CTO of Theion. Theion’s DCi process allows for the targeted addition of conductive paths to maximize active material and optimize energy content. Together, says Theion, these properties result in a battery with triple the range and runtime of traditional LIBs, with a 90% reduction in energy consumption to produce the batteries. The ability to use sulfur, an inexpensive industrial by-product, to replace cobalt and nickel further reduces production costs.

“We are currently building a large platelet growth system for 120 mm sulfur platelets at 15 mAh/cm2. This is a fundamentally different production process than typical LIBs, where everything starts off as mush,” says Slavik. By 2025, Theion plans to operate a gigawatt-scale production line. “Early adopters of new batteries in the space industry are looking for high-energy options to deliver cargo to orbit,” adds Slavik.

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