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Advances in lithium–sulfur batteries based on multifunctional cathodes and electrolytes

Abstract

Amid burgeoning environmental concerns, electrochemical energy storage has rapidly gained momentum. Among the contenders in the ‘beyond lithium’ energy storage arena, the lithium–sulfur (Li–S) battery has emerged as particularly promising, owing to its potential to reversibly store considerable electrical energy at low cost. Whether or not Li–S energy storage will be able to fulfil this potential depends on simultaneously solving many aspects of its underlying conversion chemistry. Here, we review recent developments in tackling the dissolution of polysulfides — a fundamental problem in Li–S batteries — focusing on both experimental and computational approaches to tailor the chemical interactions between the sulfur host materials and polysulfides. We also discuss smart cathode architectures enabled by recent materials engineering, especially for high areal sulfur loading, as well as innovative electrolyte design to control the solubility of polysulfides. Key factors that allow long-life and high-loading Li–S batteries are summarized.

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Figure 1: Fundamental problems with using porous carbon as a sulfur host material.
Figure 2: Summary of the polar–polar chemical interactions between lithium polysulfides and polar sulfur hosts.
Figure 3: Entrapping lithium polysulfides by metal-sulfur bonding.
Figure 4: Strategy of binding polysulfides by sulfur-chain catenation via nucleophilic substitution.
Figure 5: Binding energy metrics for chemical interactions between lithium polysulfides and sulfur hosts.
Figure 6: Various cathode architectures for high areal sulfur loading in Li–S cells.
Figure 7: Concept of using non-solvents compared with typical ether-based electrolytes.
Figure 8: A summary of five aspects to be addressed to allow long-life and high-loading Li–S batteries.

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Acknowledgements

L.F.N very gratefully acknowledges BASF SE for generous funding through their International Scientific Network for Electrochemistry and Batteries (and BASF Canada). We thank Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) for support via its Discovery and Research Chair programmes, and Natural Resources Canada. We kindly thank M. Cuisinier for the graphics in Fig. 1. Partial support (to Q.P.) is now provided by the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), an Energy Innovation Hub funded by the US Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences.

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Correspondence to Linda F. Nazar.

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Pang, Q., Liang, X., Kwok, C. et al. Advances in lithium–sulfur batteries based on multifunctional cathodes and electrolytes. Nat Energy 1, 16132 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nenergy.2016.132

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