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Atomic resolution images show what happens when lithium ions enter battery electrodes

(Nanowerk Spotlight) Lithium-ion batteries are some of the most energetic rechargeable batteries available today – thanks to their good energy-to-weight ratios – and consequently, they power most of the electronic devices that we carry around with us.
In terms of weight and size, batteries have become one of the limiting factors in the continuous process of developing smaller and higher performance electronic devices. To meet the demand for batteries having higher energy density and improved cycle characteristics, researchers have been making tremendous efforts to develop new electrode materials or design new structures of electrode materials. Just recently, for instance, scientists have dramatically improved the performance of lithium-ion batteries by creating novel electrodes made of silicon and conducting polymer hydrogel, a spongy material similar to that used in contact lenses and other household products (read more: “Novel nanotechnology electrodes that improve lithium-ion batteries”). Other novel electrode materials are silicon and boron (see: “Promising material for lithium-ion batteries”), and of course carbon nanomaterials such as graphene (see: “Graphene improves both energy capacity and charge rate in rechargeable batteries”).
“The design of new electrode materials to a great extent depends on how the lithiation front propagates into the anode material,” Reza Shahbazian-Yassar, an Associate Professor at Michigan Technological University (MTU) and a Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells Nanowerk. “Therefore, revealing the atomic-scale lithiation mechanism is central to unfolding the performance of electrode materials during the operation of lithium-ion batteries.”
In new work, reported in the June 3, 2013 online edition of ACS NANO (“Atomic-Scale Observation of Lithiation Reaction Front in Nanoscale SnO2 Materials”), Yassar and his team investigated the atomistic nature of the lithiation mechanism in individual tin dioxide (SnO2) nanowires by in situ transmission electron microscope (TEM) and complementary density functional theory (DFT) simulation.
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