The Surprising Environmental Winner in EV Batteries: Lithium-Sulfur?

Explore the eco-benefits of Li-S batteries as the sustainable choice for EVs, outperforming others in a recent study on environmental impact.

Harold Thompson


Harold Thompson


Mar 22, 2024

The Surprising Environmental Winner in EV Batteries: Lithium-Sulfur?

The Surprising Environmental Winner in EV Batteries: Lithium-Sulfur

As the automotive industry accelerates its shift towards electric vehicles (EVs), the environmental implications of battery production have come under closer examination. A recent study published in IEEE Access takes a comprehensive look at the ecological footprint of various EV batteries, spotlighting lithium-sulfur cells as the forerunner for eco-friendly power sources. The contrasting properties and sustainability of these batteries could set the pace for the EV market's future.

Despite the prevailing dominance of lithium-ion batteries, their alternatives are quickly catching up, with potential benefits over their much-touted predecessor. Lithium-sulfur batteries emerge with not only a higher energy density but also a cleaner production profile, avoiding the use of precious metals whose extraction imposes a heavy environmental toll.

Environmental Assessment Reveals a Clear Leader

Antonella Accardo from the Polytechnic University of Turin led an investigation into the lifecycle impacts of EV batteries, specifically scrutinizing different battery cells, including silicon-polyacrylonitrile (SiCPAN) and silicon nanowire (SiNW) options. The research evaluated the batteries across multiple environmental metrics, with lithium-sulfur cells outperforming others in four out of six criteria, including fresh water ecotoxicity and fossil fuel consumption.

The Current Landscape and The Path Forward

While silicon-based batteries have attracted attention for their high energy storage capability, their dependence on precious metals and energy-intensive manufacturing dampens their ecological appeal. Yet, the study also pondered scenarios sans precious metals, unveiling the potential for even less environmental strain with refining production methods. Ezio Spessa, who supervised the study, emphasizes the importance of parallel development paths for performance and environment-friendly battery solutions.

Further research is slated to assess the scalability of these findings from individual cells to full battery packs and to consider the impact of incorporating recycled materials into production lines. These crucial steps will better inform the transition to more sustainable mobility technologies in the pipeline.

Check out the full report and decide for yourself what you think. Will lithium-sulfur batteries come out on top? Or will something more like sodium ion be the long term, more sustainable option preferred by EV makers? We've written about how sodium could supersede lithium in due time, and in our findings we determined sodium makes more sense for stationary storage than it does for EVs. Even still, automakers are testing sodium hybrid batteries now, so who knows what the future holds for the technology.

We know one thing for sure: just because there are a lot of lithium battery types, it doesn't mean that lithium-based chemistries will be the dominant technology forever. After all, lithium ion fires have been reported to be deadly, and these reports have recently spiked in major metro areas like New York. LFPs are increasing in popularity, and have been found to be one of the better batteries for off grid living.  As we come to rely more on lithium batteries, newer chemistries will be needed to avoid similar catastrophes moving forward. Perhaps lithium-sulfur could be on that list.

Source: IEEE Spectrum

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