Waste sulfur, seen below in the image of an Athabaska oil sands production site, is being transformed into lightweight plastic for use in electric batteries. The research into a new chemical process has been headed up by University of Arizona and involves contributions from Seoul National University in Korea, University of Delaware, and University of Hamburg. The plastic created is used to manufacture lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries suitable for use in electric vehicles and ultralight airborne reconnaissance robotic drones.
This international patent pending process uses sulfur left over from the refining of fossil fuels like the oil sands. Typically the sulfur extraction process involved yields less than a quarter kilogram (half a pound) of sulfur for every 72 liters (19 gallons) of gasoline. But when you factor in the millions of barrels of oil being refined each day you get a lot of sulfur. Although there are industrial uses for the sulfur there are not enough to get rid of mountains of yellow waste.
Using waste sulfur was a key objective for the research team. One that uses some of the sulphur from waste is vulcanization, a process that involves adding a small amount of sulfur to make synthesized rubber. In the case of the process from University of Arizona, the researchers use liquid sulfur with a chemical agent additive that turns the waste product into a usable polymer. The researchers have dubbed this process aptly as reverse vulcanization.
In the picture below you can see a petri dish on the left containing the liquid polymer plastic created from waste sulfur seen on the right. The plastic created from the sulfur performs very well in the Li-S batteries exhibiting high specific capacity and good retention over multiple discharges.
Already several companies have expressed interest in commercializing the technology. Li-S batteries are lighter than current lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles today making them an attractive option for the transportation industry to consider. And these Li-S batteries are even lighter than any others on the market making them attractive for small form factors like airborne drones. A comparison chart shows the distinct advantages of Li-S over Lithium-Ion for such applications. Note how much lighter Li-S is than the lithium-iron batteries with which we are more familiar.
The research team continues to work on their discovery looking at other chemicals to see if they can improve on their formula. One field of interest is photonics looking at the polymer for its transmission properties and for light emitting diodes.
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July 4, 2015 - To all my American readers a happy 4th of July. As a researcher bent on understanding the future and where humanity is going I seldom think about this within a cosmological context. But there are a whole bunch of people who called cosmologists and they have given us the Big Bang, the expanding Universe, and the big physics that governs how it all works.
July 3, 2015 - For humans to successfully endure a voyage to Mars and back NASA wants to have a better picture of where to land. So they want to deploy an airplane to fly over the surface.
July 2, 2015 - The United Nations has received commitments from 44 countries and the European Union (28 countries) so far in advance of the Paris climate change conference planned for December 2015. China, Brazil, South Korea, Iceland and Serbia are the latest to announce plans to decarbonize their economies over time.
July 2, 2015 - Today's guest blogger is Roy Rasmussen, co-author of the book, Publishing for Publicity. Roy is a freelance copywriter who focuses on ways to help small business get more customers through focused messaging.
July 2, 2015 - A mere two days before the United States celebrates its Independence Day, the Republicans now have 14 definite candidates and 2 to 6 probables who want to be the next President of the country. Of these one, although not a scientist, has stated that global warming is a human problem. That's Senator Lindsey Graham.
July 1, 2015 - It is Canada Day here north of the 49th parallel, the 148th year of the nation's birth. So today I went to watch my Toronto Blue Jays in action and have just returned to post the first of its kind blog here at 21st Century Tech. The collaboration is with Jessica Oaks, who has been a regular guest contributor.
June 30, 2015 - Just in case you were worried that we didn't have enough data traveling through fiber optic cables, engineers at