Western leading the charge in pioneering battery research

Contact: Cindy Wagner

KALAMAZOO,  Mich.—New research from Western Michigan University is showing promise in the development of an alternative battery for use in electric vehicles, as manufacturers face concerns about shortages and increasing costs of materials for lithium-ion batteries.

WMU researchers are helping to lead the charge in developing low-cost, highly sustainable electric vehicle batteries based on readily available materials. The pioneering research offers promising data on a potentially game-changing sustainable biomass-based lithium sulfur cathode material called CarbonX (Li-S).

Initially intended for advanced high performance and low weight batteries used in next generation aviation, electric vehicles and energy storage batteries, this biomass-based material could enable a new generation of cost-effective and highly sustainable lithium sulfur batteries with twice the performance and half the cost of today’s conventional electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries.

Dr. Qingliu Wu

The work, titled “A Biomass-Based Cathode for Long-Life Lithium-Sulfur Batteries,” will be published by the journal "Electrochemistry Communications." The Li-S battery chemistry work at WMU has been led by battery material specialist Dr. Qingliu Wu, associate professor of chemical and paper engineering, Jian Yang, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a team of fellow WMU research associates.

“Dr. Wu’s leadership and expertise in battery research offers a global opportunity to develop products that overcome many life cycle and performance limitations that have plagued the commercialization of lithium-sulfur batteries for nearly 25 years,” says Dr. Steve Butt, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The outstanding work from Dr. Wu and his team is very exciting and promising.””

The collaboration includes teams from Western, CTNano in Brazil and Xponential Battery Materials in the Netherlands. The group has been working to optimize CarbonX, the novel biomass to structured porous carbon advanced battery material, which is now under contract by Xponential Battery Materials. The biomass to structured porous carbon materials research is being headed Dr. Glaura Goulart Silva and Dr. Ana Paula Texiera

Jian Yang

“Not only do lithium sulfur batteries have the potential to provide a much higher energy density versus conventional lithium-ion batteries, the CarbonX Li-S biomass-based batteries have significant sustainability advantages over other lithium sulfur batteries,” explains Wu. Preliminary testing at WMU shows the CarbonX biomass-based Li-S cathode material achieves some of the highest specific capacity and longest cycle life results of any Li-S cathode material known to date.

The CarbonX Li-S cathode material is being developed as a stand-alone, very high capacity lithium sulfur cathode material by XBM that can be produced virtually anywhere in the world using abundant sulfur and biomass waste by-products (typically tannins and lignins) from various low-cost, readily available feed stocks in Brazil, the United States and the European Union. In addition to its ability to help ameliorate sourcing critical battery materials, such as the nickel and cobalt in most electric vehicle lithium ion batteries today, the CarbonX Li-S cathode material is designed to work with most any new gel or solid-state electrolytes, opening doors for a new generation of high energy density, cost-effective and ultra-sustainable lithium sulfur batteries.

“One of the many key challenges we faced at WMU over the past year was helping to optimize a Li-S cathode battery material to somehow overcome many of the performance pitfalls associated with current Li-S materials, limiting the use of most lithium-sulfur batteries today,” says Wu. He sees this new research as proof positive that controlling carbon size and surface area and adding a catalyst can bridge those issues found in most other Li-S cathode materials.

“The challenge for us at WMU is to help Xponential Battery Materials further develop, not only a higher performing Li-S battery material in terms of improved capacity and cycle-life, but one that is both sustainable and commercially scalable in a timely manner,” says Wu, whose goal is to help enable all lithium ion battery and electric vehicle manufacturers in the U.S., European Union, Brazil and elsewhere to be able to rely on a large supply of locally produced critical materials to meet the exponential growth in demand during the next five to 10 years.

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