May 27, 2021: Oxis Energy, the UK-based lithium-sulfur battery start-up, was placed in administration on May 19.
Most of the 60 staff had already been made redundant when accountancy and business advisory firm BDO LLP was appointed as an administrator to dissolve the company.
“The company was unable to secure the investment required to continue its product development,” said BDO business restructuring partner Simon Girling. “However, we are hopeful of obtaining a sale of the company’s specialist testing equipment, together with approximately 200 patents held by the company, and the opportunity remains for an acquirer to purchase these assets in situ at an internationally acclaimed testing centre, and separate R&D facility. Indicative offers are requested by May 28.”
Just six months ago Oxis was upbeat about its chemistry, with plans to develop all-solid state configurations by 2025. The company also had a plant in Brazil, which the firm said would produce five million cells a year by 2022.
Mahdokht Shaibani is a research fellow in the Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering at Monash University, Australia, and has studied lithium-sulfur technology for more than seven years.
She says that the chemistry, though promising, could still benefit from a few more years of university research before it gets to the R&D stage.
“The progress on the lithium metal anode protection has been incremental and without a breakthrough on that component, there will be no mass adoption of the Li-S system,” she says. “We need to recall that the research on the use of lithium metal in batteries dates back to the 70s and the emergence of Li-S has only powered it up.
“And now, after decades of research, even the failure mechanisms of the lithium metal anode are not well understood — let alone the protection in the harsh environment of the Li-S system and at scale.
“Here at Monash, like a few other university labs, we’ve gotten hold of the sulfur cathode and the separator and we now have our focus on the lithium anode — the difficult component. Nonetheless, I believe the Li-S research community should be appreciative to Oxis for the insightful papers they published every once in a while — not on the materials aspects but on the cell assembly and testing — areas that are not the focus of university researchers.”
Shaibani says Li-S is still a valid chemistry, and that the theoretical metrics are too rewarding to let go and the progress over the last few years has been ‘unexpected’. The lithium anode breakthrough may be right around the corner and then the cheaper, greener, lighter goals will soon become a reality, she says.
Arizona, US-based Sion Power backed away from the chemistry after working on it for several years and being at the forefront of the technology.
“We pulled everything we knew from working with Li-S all those years and looked at the traditional system that was out there, and the big shortfall was the energy level you were able to achieve,” said Sion’s CEO Tracy Kelley.
“Although it has the potential for very high specific energy and very high density, once you’d distilled the chemistry down to something that was a commercial product, and pushed what you needed to push from performance parameters, we found that we were able to get the high gravimetric energy from the system, but from a volumetric standpoint it was low compared to say lithium-ion.”
Oxis Energy did not respond to ESJ’s requests for comment.