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Sulfur-Based Battery Outperforms Lithium-Ion in Tests
6/17/2013

An all-solid lithium-sulfur battery developed by an Oak Ridge National Laboratory team led by ChengduLiang could reduce costs, increase performance, and improve safetyover designs that primarily use lithium-ion chemistries.(Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)
An all-solid lithium-sulfur battery developed by an Oak Ridge National Laboratory team led by Chengdu
Liang could reduce costs, increase performance, and improve safety
over designs that primarily use lithium-ion chemistries.
(Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

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Rob Spiegel
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Perhaps promising
Rob Spiegel   6/17/2013 9:05:36 AM
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This looks promising, Elizabeth, even if it is in its infancy. The whole EV world is in its infancy, so now we add another altewrnativew to lithium-ion. That can only be good.

naperlou
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Re: Perhaps promising
naperlou   6/17/2013 11:47:42 AM
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Rob, as you say, this is in it's infancy.  It took six years to get to this point.  There are still many aspects to be researched as well.  I wouldn't look for it too soon.

This is a very good illustration of the problems faced by electric vehicle manufacturers.  There are lots of technologies being researched (a good thing), but not many that will be ready soon for manufacture.  That is too bad in this case, since sulfur is very abundant.  It is not only available as a byproduct of chemical processes, but coal fired plants produce massive amounts.  This is generally hauled away and stuffed in old coal pits.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Perhaps promising
Elizabeth M   6/18/2013 8:56:40 AM
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Yes, Lou, as we sometimes forget it often takes awhile for things to get out of the lab and into the commercial market. This took six years to get this far, so it will probably take substantially more to turn it into a viable battery. And, as you say, this is why it's taken so long likely for the EV to materialize in a meaningful way.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Perhaps promising
Ann R. Thryft   6/19/2013 1:06:18 PM
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Agreed, Elizabeth--R&D just to reach the point this researcher has achieved takes longer than many of us would wish, especially in battery technology.



Rob Spiegel
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Re: Perhaps promising
Rob Spiegel   6/24/2013 12:15:10 PM
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Naperllou, it could be that the sulfur battery will eventually win out. Or, it could be that a number of battery solutions will find acceptance.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Perhaps promising
Elizabeth M   6/25/2013 6:31:27 AM
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I hope it's the latter, Rob. Why should there just be one type of battery design? I think maybe having choice and perhaps finetuning some chemistries for certain applications more than others is the best way to go.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Perhaps promising
Rob Spiegel   6/25/2013 3:10:30 PM
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I'd bet on multiple solutions, Elizabeth. I don't see one solution pulling away decisively.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Perhaps promising
Elizabeth M   6/26/2013 4:49:04 AM
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The thing is, Rob, that is probably best. But it would also be good if some of these researchers could get on the same page, at least with some of the complementary technologies. I know there are two separate research groups, for example, working on the use of nanotechnology and silicon to improve Li batteries...but I think for now they are separate projects. While I think there won't be a one-size-fits-all solution in the future, some of these solutions could be combined, I think, for a better battery.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Perhaps promising
Rob Spiegel   6/26/2013 7:24:43 PM
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I'd like to see some sharing in this field. If the automakers can share platforms, than I'd think battery developers could as well.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Perhaps promising
Elizabeth M   6/27/2013 4:33:31 AM
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That's a good analogy, Rob. I wasn't aware of what was happening in the auto industry. How are they sharing platforms? Would the same type of thing be applicable to battery researchers?

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Perhaps promising
Rob Spiegel   6/27/2013 11:14:03 PM
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Actually, Elizabeth, I used the wrong term. The platform sharing is when a car comany uses the same platflorm for more than one branded vehicle. The transfer of technology happens -- at least in part -- on an online technollogy exchange called yet2.com. Apparently, 25 percent of auto technology is bought and sold there. Plus, suppliers such as Seimens are pushng for auto technology to be  released as industry standards.

Yet2.com:

http://marketplace.yet2.com/app/about/about/press?page=press9

Charles Murray
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Re: Perhaps promising
Charles Murray   7/9/2013 7:39:04 PM
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I agree with your statement about multiple battery solutions, Rob. In the future, I think some cars will use batteries designed for high power (hybrids), high energy (electric cars) and high cycle life.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Perhaps promising
Elizabeth M   6/18/2013 5:02:30 AM
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Yes, it does look promising, and there seem to be some great minds at work here, Rob. I hate to say that researchers seem to be "throwing things at the wall to see what sticks" when it comes to battery altneratives, but there do seem to be a lot of new options they are working on. But that's a good thing! The only way to come up with a new viable alternative to Li is to keep experimenting. I suppose we'll see what sticks in due time.

Jim_E
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Re: Perhaps promising
Jim_E   6/18/2013 8:53:52 AM
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Great to see advances made in battery technology, even if it is just preliminary, research stage work.  We definitely need more effecient energy storage.  

I just read about the facility in Germany that is using "green" electricity to break down water into Hydrogen which is then injected into existing natural gas lines.  They say that the natural gas absorbs the Hydrogen.

Has anyone tried the bamboo / coconut formulated battery like the professor did on Gilligan's Island?  ;) ;) ;)

 

TJ McDermott
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Then and Now
TJ McDermott   6/17/2013 10:07:38 AM
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Elizabeth's article gives me a lot of hope for a revolution in electrical storage.  But I wonder from where the innovation comes.

Oak Ridge is a government lab.  A century ago, such inventions and research did not come from the government.  It came from individuals such as Edison, Tesla, The Wrights, etc. or non-government companies.

Edison and his Menlo Park group looked at thousands of materials in the search for one suitable in an electric light bulb.

The quest for better electrical storage seems like a retelling of light-bulb filaments - find the right chemistry and electrify the world.

THe current state of patent law might have something to do with this state of affairs.

 

patb2009
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Re: Then and Now
patb2009   6/17/2013 10:56:10 PM
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"  A century ago, such inventions and research did not come from the government.  It came from individuals such as Edison, Tesla, The Wrights, etc. or non-government companies."

 

I would prefer basic technology come from government labs, they can then publish and industry can work on products.  

that lets basic technology patents belong to the taxpayers while industry has detailed design patents.

Tool_maker
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Re: Then and Now
Tool_maker   6/18/2013 12:54:02 PM
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  I completely agree that the place for this research is in Big Government. They can assemble teams of the finest researchers so long as they are 50/50 men and women; 15% black; 7% Asian; 18% latin, and 8% gay. The primary problem will be figuring out how to tax the tar out of the final product if the government already owns it.

  Have there been government successes? Of course, but al you have to do to find boondoggles is look at the hundreds of billions poured int that Joint Force fighter plane. Has it ever flown yet?

William K.
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Re: Then and Now
William K.   6/19/2013 9:47:59 PM
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Tool Maker: there certainly have been problems with the joint force fighter plane, and a lot of them come from the requirements side. The problem is that it turns out that there are some things that can't be done, at least not reliably and for a reasonable price. The big problem there was with the incompatible specifications, and, of course, with the people who agreed to meet them. 

Watashi
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Re: Then and Now
Watashi   6/20/2013 6:50:19 PM
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The Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has flown for many years. It can be an example for you, but not as you suggest.

Both Boeing and Lockheed had flying prototypes back in 2000. Lockheed won the competition, then the government did what it does best; requirements creep. Had the government put out final requirements to start with and prevented any changes; the JSF would be in service today.

IN my opinion, government suffers from three fundamental issues as it relates to this thread:

1) Government Bureaucracy is expensive and creates such an overhead that only a miniscule amount of funding actually goes toward any project.

2) Politics trumps all; no one ever wants to make a final decision and nothing is ever guaranteed.  Your research focus today can be cut by political whim (especially with the rash of crony capitalism going on right now).

3) Government incompetence; which is usually caused by simple oversights processing through an utterly mindless bureaucracy. I'd even go as far as to say that if these researchers were the cream of the crop, they would be working in the private sector.

Some have suggested that it would be great if the government did the basic research and then let us profit exploiting it, but that is not how things work in the real world.  The government research, while technically owned by all of us, will have rights or release of information steered to those who will pay to play.  It also undercuts the private research initiatives.  Knowing that the government is throwing its resources into an area, jeopardizing the profit potential, can depress private research efforts; because businesses must profit or die.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Then and Now
Elizabeth M   6/21/2013 6:19:06 AM
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That's an interesting perspective and example, Watashi. So sometimes research itself needs commercial backing, not the other way around. And the government can sometimes get in its own way with getting good ideas out there.

eafpres
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Re: Then and Now
eafpres   6/18/2013 12:59:03 PM
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@patb2009--nowadays many US government labs patent innovations then seek to license them--they don't just publish them and give them away.

3drob
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Re: Then and Now
3drob   6/18/2013 8:50:29 AM
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TJ- I would disagree that patent law has much to do with the rise of government's importance in basic research.  I would surmise that several other factors play into this with more importance. 

One factor is that most (if not all) the low lying fruit has already been discovered (if it was easy, it's been done).  Back in the Bose/Edison/Tesla days, you could (had to) make your own devices (electronic components were all hand made including vacuum tubes and diodes).  Anybody with intelligence and time could tinker with the most exotic (then) technologies. 

Another factor is that outside of the orient, the bean counters and business majors running our corporations these days don't see past 6 months, much less 5 years, much less the decade or two it will take to commercialize new, advanced technology.  In the Orient, lack of concern over large monopolies, tax laws tuned to long term results, and government subsidies for commercial development make sure that their basic research and development is well funded.  Even Europe is more tuned in to the long term (ask yourself; who owns Bell Labs right now?)

This development is a ray of hope that there are better solutions in development for energy storage and that these solutions may not depend on exotic materials controlled by only a few (potentially hostile) nations.

eafpres
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Re: Then and Now
eafpres   6/18/2013 12:57:34 PM
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@3drob--although I agree with you that a lot of "Western" businesses are short-term focused, there are other barriers in Asia, in particular China, to the development of new technology.  Chinese academics who are doing all kinds of innovative work don't have good paths to commercialize ideas.  In the US, many universities have marketing and PR departments to attract interest to their ideas, then they enter into licensing agreements with startups, often involving the university researchers, and speed technology into the marketplace.  This ecosystem isn't as well developed in China.

 

ervin0072002
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Re: Then and Now
ervin0072002   6/19/2013 9:41:58 AM
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3drob. I do not believe you are entirely true. Many technology companies have engineers as leaders. The corporation I work for currently has many leaders in its ranks that are engineers and their vision stretches into forever. Moreover it is apparent that corporations rise and a clear link between research and development and income is visible in the charts, to the point where even a business major is not arguing with the expensive bills of research and development.  One of the key measurement units our company has is the number of patents awarded to it. I don't see where you are getting your information from?

Tool_maker
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Re: Then and Now
Tool_maker   6/20/2013 12:24:17 PM
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 3drob, "most, if not all, the low hanging fruit has been discovered." I could not disagree more. Some inovation will all of a sudden make something else, "low hanging fruit".

  I am a fisherman and in 2012 a lure appeared that impacted the sport like no other in my memory. Isaac Walton wrote his treatise on angling a couple centries ago, and much of it is still valid and practiced. But when Tom Mann came out with his "Alabama Rig" it caused changes in the law. The A-Rig fishes (5) baits at once and several states, that I am aware of, changed fishing laws to outlaw or at least limit it. When you see the rig in action, it is such a simple concept that I am sure many people could have thought of it, but only one was first bring it to the market. As such Mann was able to command a $25 price tag. Since then a number of imitations have hit the market and prices have tumbled to under $10.

  Now you may argue that fishing lures have been around for centuries and this is only an alteration. I would counter that this is such a different concept as to be a new invention. Not to mention a lot of fun to fish. I am sure there are other niche markets where similar things have occured.

j-allen
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Re: Then and Now
j-allen   6/18/2013 9:00:42 AM
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You raise an interesting point.  May I offer some guesses as to why this change has occurred?  First, a lot of the "cheap and simple" inventions have already been perfected, especially the ones that a private person could accomplish with modest resources.  I am thinking of the Wright Flyer, and perhaps the deForest Audion.  More complicated inventions (like this barrery) require long efforts by well equipped labs and teams of collaborators supported by big corporations or government facilities.   Examples of the former included the famous Bell Labs and the RCA Sarnoff Lab.  These days big companies are much more concerned with with short-term profits--next quarter, or at best the next year.  They dare not invest heavily in some project that might, with luck, succeed a decade after the CEO has moved on with his wheelbarrows full of benefits.  This leaves mostly publicly supported research to solve the long range problems, and regardless of ideology, we have to admit that many such programs have succeeded, including the development of radar, the Manhattan Project, the space program, and the human genome project.  Since the results supposedly benefit the general public, is it unreasonable that the public chip in to finance them? 

 

As I said in the beginning, this is an off-the-cuff response, so I welcome replies from others with numbers and data to support or refute these comments. 

Francois Racicot
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Re: Then and Now
Francois Racicot   6/18/2013 1:17:57 PM
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Yes, it is normal for the public to chip in some money, as soon as we have some garantee that the companies that will produce the said batteries will not export its production to china in order to make more money out of us.

AnandY
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Gadget developers
AnandY   6/17/2013 10:22:00 AM
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They say their all-solid lithium-sulfur battery offers four times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion technologies.

@Elizabeth, thanks for the post. Energy density four times higher menas that present smartphone's lithium-ion battery giving eight hours of use will give 32 hours if lithium-sulfur battery is used. 

Then this will be a good news for gadget developers. With longer battery cycle, gadget developers will come up with more powerful gadgets, making them more power hungry. We will still struggle with eight hours battery.

56ml
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60 C
56ml   6/17/2013 12:33:42 PM
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I wonder about the statement that the battery can be cycled 300 times at 60 C.  Perhaps this suggest tht the battery has to be operated at elevated temperatures, which makes sense since solid state materials often conduct much better when hotter.  This would mean the battery would only be good on big things used constantly, such as delivery trucks or buses or things that can have good surrounding insulation.  For personal cars, having to keep the battery hot means burning energy, which likely offsets any potential efficiency gains.  Forget the cellphone.  You would not want 60 C next to your ear or having so much insulation to keep the heat in that the phone would no longer be portable.

Charles Murray
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Very good cycle life
Charles Murray   6/17/2013 6:22:19 PM
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The numbers here are in line with what we've seen the past, except for the cycle life, which is much better. I know researchers who are getting 100-200 cycles on lithium-sulfur, and even that is very good. Three hundred cycles -- which is what they're getting here -- is off the charts. The theoretical max energy capacity of lithium-sulfur is about 1,675 Ah/kg. If you can get 75% of that, you're doing great. The timeline for development of batteries like these is estimated to be about 20 years, and most of the people who I've talked to say we're about five years into that timeline.

jgouatarbes@yahoo.fr
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Re: Very good cycle life
jgouatarbes@yahoo.fr   6/18/2013 10:33:19 AM
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I don't know the specifics but the UK based company OXIS Energy claims on twitter that one of their standard Lithium Sulfur pouch cells has just surpassed 450 cycles this week!

Charles Murray
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Re: Very good cycle life
Charles Murray   6/19/2013 7:03:02 PM
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I didn't know about OXIS Energy's development, but that's a great lead. 450 cycles is amazing. Thanks for the heads-up, dgouatarbes.

sjmonte@4kenrich.com
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How do I contact Chengdu Liang to see if I can assist him to reduce costs, increase performance, and improve safety?
sjmonte@4kenrich.com   6/18/2013 11:02:29 AM
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How do I contact Chengdu Liang to see if I can assist him to reduce costs, increase performance, and improve safety?

Elizabeth M
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Re: How do I contact Chengdu Liang to see if I can assist him to reduce costs, increase performance, and improve safety?
Elizabeth M   6/19/2013 4:58:26 AM
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Hi there, sjmonte, here is the contact for the lab...you can reach Chengdu this way.

Morgan McCorkle
Communications and Media Relations
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Phone: 865-574-7308

ervin0072002
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Thank You
ervin0072002   6/19/2013 9:33:28 AM
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Thank you to Chengdu Liang. If this is realized it could make everything a little better. Energy storage is a key component at making our everyday life easier and better.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Thank You
Elizabeth M   6/20/2013 4:32:51 AM
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Agreed, ervin0072002...the thing is, there are many efforts underway right now to create better batteries and find more innovative and efficient ways to store energy. It's about time, I say. I have always wondered why it's taken so long to improve batteries, why charging and battery life still plague us as every day irritations. I've learned that the chemistry is very tricky, though, as I've been writing about it, so it's not as easy as one think it might be.

William K.
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But can it actually be produced?
William K.   6/19/2013 9:56:16 PM
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This is one of those interesting things that tease us frequently, which is that some wonderful thing is discovered, and now all that needs to happen is for it to go into production next week, and "the world will be saved." Then the project just sort of fades away, or sometimes it gets federal funding and then goes broke. In this case it seems that there are definitly a few major breakthroughs needed to acieve commercial status. 

But it sound valuable enough to make it worthwhile working on and I wish them success.

Elizabeth M
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Re: But can it actually be produced?
Elizabeth M   6/20/2013 4:46:56 AM
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Yes, William K., let's hope this research gets on the right path so it is more than a teaser. If 15 years of being a journalist, mainly in tech, has taught me anything, it's that the path from a great idea to an actual useful and well-adopted product can be painfully slow, or never materialize at all. But with all of the efforts being put into battery research, something has to pan out eventually, I think.

William K.
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Re: But can it actually be produced?
William K.   6/20/2013 9:48:00 AM
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Elizabeth, one way to have some great ideas is to have a large number of ideas, some of which become great, while the rest may not be very good. Sort of like Edison, who came up with lots of ideas, some of which wound up being great, and quite a few that we never read about. 

Of course, not every organization understands the conditions required to fertilize the area for ideas of any kind, great, good, or just possible. You may be able to ask companies like 3M about the proportion of ideas that they come up with as compared to those that make it into production. That could be an interesting topic for discussion.

Most of my employers over the years have primarily required the creation of great ideas in response to very specific requirements or problems, so it has been quite interesting, evaluating all the initial concepts devised, prior to putting lines on paper and verbally passing concepts around in our small group.

Elizabeth M
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Re: But can it actually be produced?
Elizabeth M   6/20/2013 2:10:38 PM
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That's a really interesting perspective, William. It seems that the luxury of research outside of a company allows people to have a lot of ideas and see what could actually be commercially viable, while inside a company people have to be pretty sure this "great idea" is going to work.

Strambo
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Details...?
Strambo   6/24/2013 3:51:44 PM
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Very interesting technology!

I couldn't help wondering about some of the details:

It is described as a Lithium-Sulfur battery, then later we're told that the design "replaces lithium with abundant and low-cost elemental sulfur..." 

It is not clear to me which it is.

Also, we're told that the design "offers four times the energy density of conventional lithium-ion technologies.", and yet the numbers given near the end tell us that the energy density is about 7 - 8.5 times the regular Li+ battery.

Thank you for your reply.

Elizabeth M
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Re: Details...?
Elizabeth M   6/25/2013 6:26:06 AM
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Hi, Strambo, these are good points. To clarify, I actually believe I made a mistake when I said it replaces lithium with sulfur. It does not, it uses sulfur in conjunction with lithium. Sorry about that; it is the only error I made. Here is a link to Oak Ridge's press release with more details: http://www.ornl.gov/info/press_releases/get_press_release.cfm?ReleaseNumber=mr20130605-00


In terms of the four-times issue...I think I explain it in the article. See this paragraph at the bottom:

However, lithium-sulfur batteries deliver about half the voltage of lithium-ion versions, so the eightfold capacity increase the Oak Ridge battery demonstrated gives it roughly four times the gravimetric energy density of lithium-ion batteries, Liang said.


Hope that helps explain things.

Charles Murray
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Re: Details...?
Charles Murray   6/27/2013 7:59:08 PM
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 You're right about the cost advantages of sulfur, Liz. Sulfur is (almost literally) dirt cheap. Cobalt, which is often used in lithium-ion batteries, is far, far more expensive than sulfur.

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Details...?
Cabe Atwell   6/27/2013 11:05:58 PM
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If the battery ever fails and produces a leak of some kind it will undoubtedly be easy to detect by smell alone.

C

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