The goal of replacing combustion engines or reducing their use presents a daunting problem for society. Current lithium-ion technologies provide a stepping stone for this dramatic but inevitable change. However, the theoretical gravimetric capacity (300 mA h g–1) is too low to overcome the problems of limited range in electric vehicles, and their cost is too high to sustain the commercial viability of electrified transportation. Sulfur is the one of the most promising next generation cathode materials. Since the 1960s, researchers have studied sulfur as a cathode, but only recently have great strides been made in preparing viable composites that can be used commercially. Sulfur batteries implement inexpensive, earth-abundant elements at the cathode while offering up to a five-fold increase in energy density compared with present Li-ion batteries.
Over the past few years, researchers have come closer to solving the challenges associated with the sulfur cathode. Using carbon or conducting polymers, researchers have wired up sulfur, an excellent insulator, successfully. These conductive hosts also function to encapsulate the active sulfur mass upon reduction/oxidation when highly soluble lithium polysulfides are formed. These soluble discharge products remain a crux of the Li–S cell and need to be contained in order to increase cycle life and capacity retention. The use of mesoporous carbons and tailored designs featuring porous carbon hollow spheres have led to highly stable discharge capacities greater than 900 mA h g–1 over 100 cycles. In an attempt to fully limit polysulfide dissolution, methods that rely on coating carbon/sulfur composites with polymers have led to surprisingly stable capacities (90% of initial capacity retained). Additives will also play an important role in sulfur electrode design. For example, small fractions (> 3 wt%) of porous silica or titania effectively act as polysulfide reservoirs, decreasing their concentration in the electrolyte and leading to a higher utilization of sulfur and increased capacities.