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New Process Transforms Waste Sulfur into Plastic

Research into methods for integrating the large amounts of waste sulfur generated in fossil fuel production into making better batteries has led to a new lightweight plastic that could improve electric car energy storage.

A team of researchers, led by Jeffrey Pyun of the University of Arizona, has developed a new chemical process that takes cheap abundant sulfur and turns it into a versatile lightweight plastic that can be used to make the next generation of lithium-sulfur (Li-S) batteries.

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

According to the team, this new plastic could be produced inexpensively and easily on a commercial or industrial scale, and because so much sulfur is produced each day at refineries (about 1/2 pound of sulfur for every 19 gallons of gas refined), it would have the added benefit of using what is basically a waste material from the fossil fuel industry to improve energy storage.

The new plastic was used by the team to make lithium-sulfur batteries, and they believe that these next-generation Li-S batteries will improve electric and hybrid cars, as they are lighter, more efficient, and cheaper than current versions. Pyun said that batteries made with the new material perform better than comparable batteries made with elemental sulfur in both specific capacity and capacity retention.

An international patent has been filed for the process, and the team is now exploring other applications for the new plastic.

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