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BIT and Argonne researchers develop new 3D sandwich material for Li-S cathodes showing high capacity and cycling stability

(Left) Cycling performance and (Right) rate capabilities of MWCNT@S, GS@S, and GS-MWCNT@S composite cathodes. Credit: ACS, Chen et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and the US Argonne National Laboratory has developed a new cathode material for Lithium-sulfur batteries: a multi-walled carbon nanotube/sulfur (MWCNT@S) composite with core–shell structure embedded into the interlay galleries of graphene sheets (GS).

The 3D hierarchical sandwich-type architecture of layered MWCNT@S and GS effectively addresses the inherent problems associated with S chemistry, the team says in a paper published in the ACS journal Nano Letters. The GS-MWCNT@S composite containing 70 wt % S exhibited a high initial capacity of 1,396 mAh/g at a current density of 0.2C (1C = 1,672 mA/g), corresponding to 83% usage of the sulfur active material. This cathode maintained a reversible capacity of 844 mAh/g after 100 cycles, and also demonstrated good rate capability, 743 mAh/g at 1C rate.

Elemental sulfur (S) is an attractive cathode material for next-generation, high-capacity rechargeable Li batteries because of its lightweight and capability of multi-electron reactions. (Earlier post.)

Li/S batteries have a theoretical specific capacity of 1,672 mAh/g and energy density of ∼2600 Wh/kg—much higher than those of Li-ion batteries. Additionally, sulfur is naturally abundant and with low environmental impact, as opposed to transition metal oxides or phosphates.

However, Li-S batteries face a number of issues that need to be overcome, the authors noted, including:

  • The electrically insulating nature of S at room temperature (5 × 10−30 S/cm) inevitably causes poor electrochemical accessibility and low active material use.

  • The dissolution of long-chain lithium polysulfide intermediates Li2Sn (4 ≤ n ≤ 8) and their notorious shuttle mechanism in organic electrolytes lead to rapid capacity degradation and low Coulombic efficiency of Li/S cells.

  • Volume variation of the sulfur cathode during cycling and aggregation of insulating discharge products, Li2S2 and Li2S, on the cathode surface dramatically change the electrode morphology and shorten the cycle life by hindering electron transfer and ion diffusion pathways.

One solution that has been explored by numerous teams is to encapsulate elemental S in a multifunctional carbon matrix, thereby enhancing the electronic conductivity of the S cathode, trapping soluble Li2Sn intermediates, and accommodating volume variation of the cathode during cycling, the team observed.

A number of approaches have been tried along these lines, including the use of various nanostructured carbon materials as scaffolds; the multi-walled carbon nanotube (MWCNT) is also an attractive carbon matrix due to its excellent electrical and mechanical properties.

However, earlier efforts have found that with the MWCNTs, the large surface area of the S cathode is in direct contact with the electrolyte, leading to large mass loss of active material. Too, the one-dimensional conductive network of MWCNTs inherently limits the ion and electron transfer pathway along the long axis of the CNTs, which results in low rate performance of the cell.

While graphene sheets—two-dimensional and one-atom-thick carbon layers—have been tailored to host S with good capacity results, the aggregation of individual GSs results in poor cyclability. Embedding sulfur within the conductive polymers, amphiphilic surface modification of hollow carbon nanofibers or formation of S-TiO2 yolk-shell nanoarchitecture with internal void space have also been reported to improve the cycle life of the Li−S batteries, the authors write.

Despite these advances, the performance of the studied Li/S cells is, however, still not satisfying in terms of cycling stability, solid- electrolyte interface protection, and rate capability.

To overcome these shortcomings, we propose a conceptually new approach to design and fabricate MWCNT@S nanostructures embedded in graphene galleries using a facile, environmentally friendly assembly process.

By taking advantage of the excellent electrical and mechanical properties of both MWCNTs and GSs, the proposed sulfur−carbon composite with unique hierarchical sandwich-type architecture aims to maximize the usage of S and improve the cycling stability and rate capability of Li/S batteries.

—Chen et al.

In their study, the team compared the electrochemical performance of the sandwich-type sulfur−carbon composite with MWCNT@S and GS@S composite cathodes.

The synergistic effects of GS and MWCNTs provide a 3D conductive network for electron transfer, open channels for ion diffusion, strong confinement of polysulfide (Li2Sn), and an effective buffer for volume variation of the S cathode...The much improved electrochemical performance of this electrode suggests that the hierarchical, sandwich-type GS-MWCNT@S composite could be a promising cathode material for rechargeable Li/S batteries.

—Chen et al.


  • Renjie Chen, Teng Zhao, Jun Lu, Feng Wu, Li Li, Junzheng Chen, Guoqiang Tan, Yusheng Ye, and Khalil Amine (2013) Graphene-Based Three-Dimensional Hierarchical Sandwich-type Architecture for High-Performance Li/S Batteries. Nano Letters doi: 10.1021/nl4016683



One more step towards future 5-5-5- batteries?


Interesting that the Chinese are so involve in the Argonne JCESR project. The PR I read didn't say much about their involvement. Not that I care because they will most likely manufacture the cells in China anyway.

Also, does anyone know how to translate the figures of mAh/g into WH/Kg? Need the voltage to do this? BTW, what is the voltage of LiS cells? I like to compare the energy density to that of the 2011 Leaf which is 140WH/Kg.



Chinese held second place in number of published peer reviewed papers few years ago. Very close to US and way ahead of any other country. By now they probably exceeded US in terms of scientific research output. So US cooperating with China, another leader in science do make sense. It is great that US is cooperating with China. And vice versa.

Cells would be produced where it makes most economical sense to make them. Now China is 3d biggest li-ion cells producer in the world, behind Japan and Korea, but Chinese market share is growing fast.

Translating mAh/g into Wh/Kg is easy. But totally pointless. Reason is that this and many articles like this talks about electrodes capacities. Without taking other electrode into account, electrolyte, separator and cell casing. You could not compare electrode(cathode/anode) with 140Wh/Kg, which is cell level specific energy. But since you asking, here is a link for you:

You can use 2.15V for Li-S cells.

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