Shiv Nadar University researchers develop Sulfur copolymers as an alternative cathode material

It will be India’s first sustainable Lithium-Sulfur Battery Technology leveraging elements of Green Chemistry. New battery technology has potential to offer up to 3x energy density and is more cost-effective and environmentally sustainable than what is currently available for common use

Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida and an Institution of Eminence (IoE) as chosen by the Government of India announced the development of a technology of Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) batteries. The research will aid the production of cost-effective, compact, energy-efficient, safe and environment-friendly Li-S batteries, offering a viable alternative to Lithium-ion batteries commonly used at present. The Li-S battery technology by Shiv Nadar University leverages principles of Green Chemistry, incorporating usage of by-products from the petroleum industry (Sulfur), agro-waste elements and copolymers such as cardanol (a by-product of cashew nut processing) and eugenol (clove oil) as cathodic materials. It has the potential to aid multi-billion dollar industries including tech gadgets, drones, electric vehicles (EV) and several more that depend on such batteries.

The new battery technology has been developed after an extensive research of five years by Shiv Nadar University’s Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry, Dr Bimlesh Lochab. The research reveals that this Li-S battery technology – once put into production – will be significantly cheaper and sustainable, while offering up to three times higher energy density with intrinsic flame-retardant properties. Dr Lochab’s team has partnered with Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay’s Professor in the Department of Energy Science and Engineering, Dr Sagar Mitra, to use this research for the development of a Li-S battery prototype.

Dr Rupamanjari Ghosh, Vice-Chancellor, Shiv Nadar University, said: “It is a very proud moment for all of us at Shiv Nadar University. This breakthrough research by Dr Lochab underlines the need for clean energy solutions at a time when our dependence on battery-operated devices has increased manifold. It is one of our priority areas of research that reflects Shiv Nadar University’s commitment to addressing challenges of local and global importance, and help elevate Indian research on the global map.”

Elaborating on her research work, Dr Bimlesh Lochab,said: “The research focusses on the principles of Green Chemistry to find a solution that addresses the requirements of industries and the environment, simultaneously. The capability of 3x energy density, coupled with being a significantly safer technology, holds the promise of accelerating the adoption of clean, battery-led energy across multiple domains. For example, an electric car with a 400 km range using conventional Lithium-ion batteries can now quadruple its range to 1600 km on a single charge with this technology, while being compact in size and much safer to use than traditional Lithium-ion batteries. To put this in perspective, it could mean driving from Delhi to Mumbai on a single charge and still being left with power.”

The new battery technology synthesises a bio-based molecule, capable of commercial-scale production. The research includes a new type of cathode for Li-S batteries, which can help push the promising battery technology to higher performance levels. The use of cardanol for Sulfur-based structures as an unconventional application to create cathode materials in this next generation Li-S battery technology has exhibited enhanced capacity retention (among the highest charge capacities reported) and longer battery life in a significantly smaller battery unit. The Sulfur for the battery is sourced from industrial waste and cardanol is sourced from bio-renewable feed-stock that is easily available, non-toxic and environmentally friendly. In addition, the research innovatively used eugenol (derived from clove oil) copolymer, which is also environmentally sustainable, halogen-free, flame-retardant, and reduces the combustible propensities, making the battery remarkably safe to use.

The current market for Lithium-ion batteries in EVs alone is pegged at US$ 44 billion that is expected to grow, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19  pandemic, at a very heathy 22% CAGR according to an analysis by Technavio. The development of more sustainable battery solutions is critical as more EVs hit the roads, and as electric utilities seek better options for storing power from intermittent renewables. The National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020, with a projection of getting 6-7 million electric vehicles on Indian roads and the installation of 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022 are also potential demand drivers for new battery technology. The three key issues to address are safety, energy density, and cost. 

According to the World Economic Forum, a circular battery value chain is a major driver to meet the Paris Agreement, as batteries could enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors.

Dr Bimlesh Lochab is one of the first scientists in India to work in the field of sustainable or waste-derived Lithium-Sulfur batteries. The research by Dr Lochab has been acclaimed globally and this work is published in the prestigious and specialized scientific journal, Energy Storage Materials (Elsevier). Dr Bimlesh Lochab has been awarded the Bronze Medal for 2021 by the Chemical Research Society of India (CRSI) for her contribution to the field of Chemistry.