Lithium-sulfur potential gets $50 million funding boost from BASF

Battery technology developer Sion Power announced yesterday that it brought on board a $50 million equity investment from German chemicals giant BASF S.E., for its lithium-sulfur storage.

Arizona-based Sion Power, a spin-off from the Brookhaven National Laboratories, is developing lithium-sulfur-based batteries intended for electric and plug-in electric vehicles.

The company has been working on the battery close to 20 years since its incorporation as Moltech in 1994. It changed its name to Sion Power in 2002.

The companies believe lithium-sulfur batteries could extend the driving range of electric vehicles, saying the battery’s unique chemistry can hold 50 percent more power than any existing battery technology out in the market, while remaining light-weight.

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A 600-pound lithium-ion battery pack, today’s leading EV battery technology, can hold 30 kilowatt-hours of power and drive a Toyota RAV4 EV for 94 miles.

A lithium-sulfur battery pack weighing only 426 pounds can hold 70 kWh and drive the same car for 226 miles, according to Sion.

But the technology is not without caveats. Sulfur is known to be a poor conductor and binds to lithium ions, eventually forming polysulfides that block charging and discharging. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, this can render the battery unusable after only a few dozen charging cycles,

Before the investment, BASF inked a technology development agreement with Sion in 2009.

Sion also won a $5 million grant from the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy in 2010 to make a lithium-sulfur battery that can last more than 300 miles between charges. In 2009, it got a grant of $800,000 from the Department of Energy for a three-year project to work on new electrolytes for lithium-sulfur batteries.

In 2010, the United States Army’s QinetiQ Zephyr broke the world record for the longest unmanned flight using Sion battery packs. – Oliver M. Bayani

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