A team of researchers at Berkeley Labs have discovered a seaweed derivative can stabilize lithium-sulfur batteries. The seaweed derivative acts a binding agent for the sulfur (Photo via Berkley Lab)


Our search for the most reliable battery never seems to end. While lithium-sulfur batteries are best for powering gadgets, vehicles, and application grids, their biggest drawback is its lifespan ─ Sulfur dissolves making the batteries unreliable. But a team from the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory believes they may have stumbled on a solution to extend their lifespan and it involves seaweed.


The team, led by Gao Liu, discovered that carrageenan, a derivative of red seaweed, can stabilize a lithium-sulfur battery and make it more useful for a wider variety of devices. The improved stability means a better lifespan and more cycling. The seaweed derivative acts like a glue or binder, which holds the active materials in a battery cell together. It reacts with the sulfur and keeps it from dissolving.


To help with the discovery, the team used Berkley Lab’s Advanced Light Source, one of the world’s brightest sources of ultraviolet and soft x-ray beams. They detected and studied the sulfur with the help of this powerful light monitoring the “electrochemistry simultaneously while the battery is charging.” When they saw the sulfur wasn’t moving, they knew they found something promising.


The benefits of longer lasting batteries are endless, but the team sees it most useful for transportation. Because lithium-sulfur is lighter than lithium-ion, it’s better for drones and other electric aircraft. They could also prove to be useful in airplanes and electric cars. Since one of Berkeley Lab’s partners is GM, we can only guess they’ll be eager to take advantage of the latest discovery. Not to mention it’s cheaper to produce since sulfur is inexpensive.


But don’t get too excited; chances are we won’t be seeing these batteries for a while. It’s still early in the process, and there’s a lot the team needs to learn. Their next steps include learning more about how the derivative interacts with sulfur and figuring out whether or not it’s reversible. The team feels like once they’ve passed this hurdle, they can use the knowledge to further improve lithium-sulfur batteries. They’ve actually been reaching these batteries for several years and published a paper regarding what they’ve found last year in Nano Letters.


Have a story tip? Message me at: cabe(at)element14(dot)com