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Lithium-Sulfur Batteries Unveiled 270

mobilemag writes "Sion Power is showing off its new Lithium-Sulfur battery design this week at the Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC). SION believes that its new Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) batteries are the answer to the power hungry devices on the market today."
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Lithium-Sulfur Batteries Unveiled

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  • Re:Bloody Yanks... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:25PM (#9146306)
    it's "sulfur" now, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry [iupac.org] says so.
  • by PatrickThomson ( 712694 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:25PM (#9146307)
    More battery info here [sionpower.com]
  • by hdd ( 772289 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:27PM (#9146325)
    Dha...I am no PhD but i know that greater energy input generally produce more work. And what makes you think no one is working on improving effeciency? Just take a look at the newest Dothan processor from intel. http://www6.tomshardware.com/mobile/20040510/index .html
  • Re:Sulfur? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:31PM (#9146359)
    They also contain a small amount of hydrogen sulfide gas, which is what the smell comes from.
  • Re:Sulfur? (Score:2, Informative)

    by JesseL ( 107722 ) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:32PM (#9146365) Homepage Journal
    Yes, but it's sulfur compounds that make them stinky.
  • Only 300 recharges? (Score:2, Informative)

    by RuneB ( 170521 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:33PM (#9146374)
    If I understand the article correctly, it says that this new battery can only be recharged 300 times, and each recharge only lasts about 8 hours. This means that each battery will only last about 87 days, right?

    Presumably, the price of the new battery will be higher than existing batteries, and it sounds like it could be a big annoyance factor to be worse than existing batteries. Would anyone spend the extra money for something that isn't that much better than what we have now? Supply and demand, and all that.

    Or am I missing something?

  • Re:Mmmm sulfur (Score:5, Informative)

    by no longer myself ( 741142 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:37PM (#9146395)
    Environmentally speaking the lithium currently in use is probably more of a threat, and cadmium is most definitely not something you want to eat.

    We produce tons of sulfur waste every day simply because it's an abundant element to begin with. It may not smell nice when mixed with other things (as pure sulfur in its crytal form is nearly oderless), but it doesn't pose a significant health risk.

    Heavy metals, petrolium distilates, and other exotic chemicals are still the greatest threat to landfill leaching.

    All in all, with only 300 charges, I'll keep my fingers crossed they come up with something better.

  • Re:Yeah right. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:38PM (#9146408)
    Quick update on fuel cells:

    The biggest problem of putting fuel cells into small electronics is the heat generated. Only the PEM [dodfuelcell.com] (Proton Exchange Membrane) type fuel cell can operate at low temperatures (as low as 80 C). Obviously this is a little too warm, so it isn't really useful for an MP3 player just yet.

    PEM fuel cells must operate with hydrogen or use an external reformer to seperate hydrogen from a hydrocarbon. The big thing that prevents PEM fuel cells from becoming commercially viable (like being used in cars) is that a platinum catalyst must be used so most of the research on PEM fuel cells is to reduce the amount of platinum needed.
  • Re:Yeah right. (Score:2, Informative)

    by downunda_wookiee ( 755913 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:40PM (#9146414)
    Polymer electrolyte fuel cells are planned for release as early as 2007, while Li-S is still 3-5 years away.

    errr.... 2004 + (3-5 years) = 2007-2009.

    So polymer electrolyte fuel cells and Li-S will be out at around the same time?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:43PM (#9146439)
    For Crissakes people, if you own a car you're driving around with a Lead-Acid battery. Guess what type of acid it uses? Sulfuric. As in it has sulfur in it. Does your car smell like farts or rotten eggs? Not unless you're farting in it.

    UPS systems also use AGM (absorbed glass mat) lead acid batteries. Don't smell any farts coming out of your UPS, do you?

    Likewise, no, your laptop or PDA will not smell because of a battery containing sulfur. You'll have to keep blaming your flatulence on the dog.
  • Re:Someone else (Score:3, Informative)

    by michael_cain ( 66650 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:54PM (#9146530) Journal
    A little digging on the Sion web site shows that they are Moltech, just using a different name.
  • Re:Mmmm sulfur (Score:2, Informative)

    by Veramocor ( 262800 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @08:58PM (#9146557)
    In fact all the toilet paper you use and all the paper you use, is made from trees which are broken down using NaOH and Na2S. Thats why paper mills stink so much.
  • Re:Light on details? (Score:3, Informative)

    by iammaxus ( 683241 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:04PM (#9146598)
    Not so insightful... What you probably meant to say was "how many milliamp hours the battery stores", but this is also incorrect. Current-time (mah) is a measure of how long a battery can output a certain current, but this does not let you compare the batteries power to batteries of other voltages. The true measure of how "powerful" these batteries are is power or energy per volume or density depending on what you really care about. power is usually given in watts and energy in watt-hours (for batteries). energy per volume is probably important in cell phones while energy (and power)per mass is probably more important in something like an electric car or maybe a laptop. As for not getting excited because the companies website doesn't mention these details, a quick Google search [google.com] turns up much of this information. A Lithium Sulfur battery does appear to be significantly better. Its discharge curve (i think thats what you were thinking of) also appears to be relatively flat. This means that it maintains the same

    Of course there are many other important factors in a battery other than these such as the shelf life and "memory effect" but in general, this technology does appear to be as exciting as batteries get.
  • Toxic vaporware. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:10PM (#9146639) Journal
    and the dash stands for......e! It's vaporware people!

    I thought it said they were shipping samples now. The several-years business is about when they might be competitive as a general service laptop battery.

    = = = = =

    But that looks like pretty TOXIC vaporware.

    Not that the other battery technologies don't contain toxic substances, of course. (Cadmium, for instance, is pretty nasty if you ingest it.) But high-energy storage devices like this are prone to catching fire if they develop an internal short. As a number of users of cellphones with Lithium batteries discovered not too long ago.

    If a lithium-sulpher battery catches fire I'd expect it to emit a lot of sulphur dioxide. That's a serious poison gas and a really painful way to die.
  • by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:56PM (#9146959) Homepage
    Of course. You can't really make a battery out of non-volatile materials. The volatility is due to the energy that the chemicals store, which is released as electrical current when the battery is utilized.

    Think back; pretty much every battery that has ever existed has had volatile materials in it. Earlier batteries had less volatile chemicals, but also stored less energy per unit weight. It goes with the territory of being a chemical power source.

  • by georgewilliamherbert ( 211790 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @09:59PM (#9146975)
    No, it isn't already obsolete;
    the Ultralife rechargable batteries
    have half (max 162 Wh/kg) the energy
    density of the new Sion Lithium-Sulphur
    cells (300 Wh/kg).


    Sion tech description

    Ultralife batteries specs sheet

  • by georgewilliamherbert ( 211790 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @10:04PM (#9147008)
    Forgot to set post to HMTL... URLS are:

    Sion tech description [sionpower.com]

    Ultralife batteries specs sheet [ultralifebatteries.com]

  • by WizardOfFoo ( 639750 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @10:21PM (#9147095)

    Don't know where you're getting that 100 cycle lifetime from. I think these people [batteryuniversity.com] would like to have a word with you regarding a litte chemistry and physics.

    Disclaimer: I don't work for them and I'm about as close as it gets to being a 'crazy eyed bandit' when it comes to discharing my laptop battery. It has served me for 18 months before crapping out and that's with multiple deep discharges per day. A lot more than 100 discharges...

    Looks like I need to go catch up on reading some Nerdular Nerdance [homestarrunner.com]...

  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @10:26PM (#9147122) Homepage Journal
    I hate to spoil a joke, but I'm going to use this opportunity to inject some radiation education:

    1. Pu-238 is an Alpha Emitter.
    2. Alpha particles can't penetrate your skin (or even a sheet of paper) and are only dangerous if they are inhaled.
    3. From the EPA [epa.gov]: "The isotope, plutonium-238, is not useful for nuclear weapons. However it generates significant heat through its decay process, which make it useful as a power source. Using a thermocouple, a device that converts heat into electric power, satellites rely on plutonium as a power source. Tiny amounts also provide power to heart pacemakers."

    Know anyone who's got a pacemaker?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 13, 2004 @10:34PM (#9147178)
    Um, gammas are emitted as shown by this diagram [kaeri.re.kr] of the alpha decay of Pu-238 [kaeri.re.kr]. I see about 29% of the time a ~43 keV gamma being emitted since the alpha doesn't always drop the U-234 [kaeri.re.kr] to its ground state (only ~71% of the time). You might want to still make the sperm deposit.
  • by shaitand ( 626655 ) * on Thursday May 13, 2004 @10:53PM (#9147296) Journal
    lol ok by extraordinarily popular demand, here it is, in proper link form!

    Ultralife [army-technology.com]

    And the reason why this old article obsoletes these newly unveiled magic technology (specifically talked about within) is in this quote:

    "The future of lithium battery technology lies in Li/MnO2, a solid-cathode chemistry. Unlike both Lithium/Sulphur Dioxide (Li/SO2) and Lithium/Thionyl Chloride (Li/SOCl2), which are liquid-cathode chemistries, Li/MnO2 does not suffer from the effects of passivation, which causes liquid-cathode batteries to suffer from a voltage delay phenomenon causing the cell voltage to be depressed when a load is applied, particularly after extended periods of storage with no use. This condition is exacerbated at low temperatures resulting in the possibility that a liquid cathode battery may not start up when called into use. Li/MnO2 batteries, which are inherently safer than the other types of lithium batteries, do not suffer from the voltage delay phenomenon."
  • Re:Yeah right. (Score:3, Informative)

    by canajin56 ( 660655 ) on Thursday May 13, 2004 @11:00PM (#9147350)
    No, it doesn't NEED a temperature of 80 degrees, it GENERATES a temperature of 80 degrees. So putting it right next to the CPU would probably overheat the system.
  • by pbi ( 760093 ) <pbi AT operamail DOT com> on Thursday May 13, 2004 @11:19PM (#9147486)
    H2SO4 is much different to H2S, olfactory wise. H2SO4, sulfuric acid, is what is used in car batteries. H2S, hydrogen sulfide, is the rotten egg smell. SO2, sulfur dioxide, is a colorless, odorless gas that can suffocate in large quantities.

    I think that the sulfur containing batteries are using alkyl sulfate, SO3- (immobilized, bonded on the polymer), no smell. However, there is another possibility that the polymer is using mercaptans or alkyl thiols. Depending on the purity of the polymer, it can stink (not completely bonded with leftover thiols) or not stink (all are bonded, without any leftover thiols).

    The alkyl sulfate polymer make sense as charge carriers, but the Li+ could be too intimate (closely bonded) to the SO3- group to make it a viable group. OTOH, alkyl thiols can work just as good, however these polymeric compounds are not quite that easy to synthesize. PEO, polyethylene oxide (CH2CH2O)x, is a polymer that has been used for many battery applications. Possibly, they could have something close to PEO using sulfur.
  • My Lithium 2 cents (Score:5, Informative)

    by Becho62282 ( 172807 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:35AM (#9147950)
    Okay, I have been working with Lithium Chemistries in batteries for 4 years now as a member of the UMR Solar Car Team (http://solar42.umr.edu).

    First a few things about Lithium based batteries. When they say a cycle life of 300 or 500 cycles that means the 80% thresh hold. In other words at 300 or 500 cycles, the "lifetime" of the battery you will still see 80% capacity when all those cycles are through. That doesn't signify the end of the battery either, we have some LG Chemical Lithium Ions (176 Wh/kg) that are 4 years old and still doing well. The problem is that after 2 years the chemicals inside the battery start reacting and could theoretically internally short, causing a dead battery, fires, or the classic cell phone battery explosion, yes that can happen. For this reason we are going to be disposing of those batteries soon, they pose a chemical hazard, you should also do that after 2 years with your cell phone battery just incase.

    In comparison to Nickels, Li batteries are much better 90-95% charge efficient (what you get out compared to what you put in). Nickels range from 60-75%. They are MUCH more energy dense (175 Wh/Kg - 500 Wh/Kg (theoretical limit I think)) while Nickels range in the 75 Wh/Kg range. And oh yeah Lithiums don't get hot, one crucial issue with Nickel based batteries is the end of charge temperature can hit 150+. Also cycle life is better Nickels can get about 200 cycles before they hit the 80% mark, and well that is only if you treat them very nicely. Lithiums are more forgiving with some missuse (just don't over volt them).

    So all in all Lithium Chemistries are pretty much the best battery format out there now, and for a while too. Lithium is the most energy dense element after all. This is why everyone is switching over to them for just about any serious work. sure cycle life is low, nothing compared to a Lead Acid, but companies are working on that, hell 5 years ago a lithium cell that lasted 200 cycles was impressive now Kokam sells Lithiums with 500 cycles and still 80% life with a starting capacity of over 200 Wh/Kg, roughly 4 times as energy dense as a Lead Acid.

    Thanks for reading if you made it this far.
  • Re:Voltage of Cells (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 14, 2004 @12:56AM (#9148071)
    http://www.chem.tamu.edu/class/majors/tutorialnote files/reduction.htm

    //Hurray for AP Chemistry & electrochem.
  • by bodrell ( 665409 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @02:16AM (#9148425) Journal
    Sodium will ignite when exposed to air or water. Chlorine is an incredibly corrosive and toxic gas. Salt is harmless (in reasonable doses).

    The properties of an element contribute to the properties of the compound (e.g., fluorine sucks up electrons, which is why trifluoroacetic acid is so much more acidic than acetic acid / vinegar), but like so much else in life, it's very context-specific.

  • by ajnlth ( 702063 ) on Friday May 14, 2004 @06:36AM (#9149310)
    As I understand one of the limiting factors for high-speed cpu's today is that there is a lot of unwanted capacitance in the wiring, which puts an upper limit on how fast they can switch from 1 to 0 (and vice versa).

    One way to make it switch faster is to increase the voltage so it takes less time to charge the capacitor, but this increases the power usage.

    So I very much doubt that it would work well adding even more capacitance to the circuit
  • by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Friday May 14, 2004 @10:26AM (#9151074) Homepage Journal
    The primary reason that they are so large is to shield against unprotected reentry from orbit. The actual thermocouples are quite small and have been implanted in everything from pacemakers to electronic ocean buoys. They're also very cheap [yahoo.com] to come by.

    The who thing could be miniaturized more by using a tiny SRG (Stirling Radioisotope Generator). You see, instead of a thermocouple, an SRG is a tiny Stirling engine. The PU-238 heats the air inside the piston, the piston rise until an exhaust port is reached, the heat is exchanged through the exhaust port, and the piston falls. The whole assembly could easily be small enough to fit inside a cell phone battery or a laptop battery. My figures show that about 10 grams should be more than enough to power your cell phone. (~1.3 W).

    Here's my design. [google.com]

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker