New Process Turns Common Waste Sulfur Into Material Useful For EV Batteries

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Large quantities of waste sulfur are created during the refinement of fossil fuels. This sulfur has previously been considered of little value. But now, thanks to a newly designed process, the waste can be easily converted into a valuable lightweight plastic, one that could likely find great utility in the next generation of lithium-sulfur batteries. Such batteries show great potential for use in electric cars, thanks to their higher efficiency, lighter weight, and lower cost, when compared to lithium-ion batteries. And this new form of sulfur actually works better in lithium-sulfur batteries than elemental sulfur does.

Plastic made of waste sulfur
Image Credit: Jared Griebel/ Pyun lab, University of Arizona

The researchers involved, have in fact already used the new plastic to successfully make lithium-sulfur batteries.

“We’ve developed a new, simple and useful chemical process to convert sulfur into a useful plastic,” lead researcher Jeffrey Pyun said.

The significant upside to this new plastic is that it can easily be produced on an industrial scale, while still remaining rather cheap. And it creates a use for the “accumulating yellow mountains of waste sulfur” that are now found at many oil refineries, a University of Arizona press release notes. There are already some uses for this sulfur, but not enough demand to keep up with the production of the material. This new plastic should change that.

“There’s so much of it we don’t know what to do with it,” said Pyun, labeling the left-over sulfur as the “the garbage of transportation.”

There’s about half a pound of sulfur waste produced for every 19 gallons of gasoline refined from fossil fuels, according to co-author Jared Griebel, a University of Arizona chemistry and biochemistry doctoral candidate.

And as stated above, the new plastic actually performs better in batteries than elemental sulfur does, possessing superior electrochemical properties leading to enhanced capacity retention.

According to the researchers, several companies have already shown interest in the new plastic, and in a battery design utilizing it created by the researchers.

A paper detailing the new process was published in the journal Nature Chemistry.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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