Scientists Capture Lithium-Ion Batteries in Nanoscale Action

By: Jennifer Rocha

New imaging techniques track lithium-ion reactions in real-time, offering clues to engineering more powerful, longer-lasting batteries

Story content courtesy of Brookhaven National Laboratory, US

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and collaborating institutions have developed methods of examining lithium-ion reactions in real-time with nanoscale (billionths of a meter) precision, offering unprecedented insights into these crucial materials. The technique uses a novel electrochemical cell and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to track lithium reactions and precisely expose subtle changes that occur in batteries’ electrodes over time. The recently-published results demonstrate the successful technique and reveal a surprisingly fast lithium conversion process that moves layer-by-layer through individual nanoparticles.

“We’ve opened a fundamentally new window into this popular technology,” said Brookhaven Lab physicist and lead author Feng Wang. “The live, nanoscale imaging may help pave the way for developing longer-lasting, higher-capacity lithium-ion batteries. That means better consumer electronics, and the potential for large-scale, emission-free energy storage.”

In this study, conducted at Brookhaven Lab’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials, the scientists custom-built an electrochemical cell to operate inside the TEM.

“The entire setup for the in-situ TEM measurements was assembled from commercially available parts and was simple to implement, so we expect to see a widespread use of this technique to study a variety of high-energy electrodes in the near future,” Wang said. “We also look forward to adapting this tool to perform more advanced nano-electrochemical measurements with the x-ray nanoprobe at the Lab’s forthcoming National Synchrotron Light Source II.”

This work was supported by the Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven.

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