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Newly Developed Live Nanoscale Imaging Technique Promises Improvement in Li-ion Batteries

Much of the nanotechnology-related work going on today for improving Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries has focused on developing nanostructured silicon to replace graphite in the anodes of the next generation Li-ion batteries.

While this work has been encouraging, another line of research has taken a different tack. Instead of just replacing the graphite in the anodes, researchers have sought to determine why the degradation of Li-ion batteries’ storage capacity occurs in the first place.

Two years ago, I covered work conducted at Ohio State University in conjunction with both Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology that employed every microscopy tool researchers could get their hands on in the search for nanoscale phenomena that would cause this degradation. The results showed that the material from which the electrodes in Li-ion batteries are made coarsen over time; the lithium ions that need to go between the positively and negatively charged electrodes become increasingly unavailable for charge transfer.

Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory have developed a new imaging technique that allows them to observe lithium-ion reactions in real time with at the nanoscale precision.

Critical to the new imaging technique is transmission electron microscopy (TEM), which has been used to fabricate the “world’s smallest” battery. In the Brookhaven work, which was published in the journal Nature Communications (“Tracking lithium transport and electrochemical reactions in nanoparticles”), the TEM is modified with an in-situ electrochemical cell that can operate inside the TEM. This novel design gives researchers the combination of live imaging found with in-situ techniques and the spatial resolution and nanoscale precision of TEM.
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