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SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

SSRL Discoveries Point to Better Batteries
SSRL Science Summary - October 2012

A single reconstructed slice and a volume rendering of the tomography sequence.

Energy storage materials, such as batteries, are of increasing importance in the modern world. They support the storage and distribution of electricity generated by different mechanisms, enabling the use of green power sources when the resource itself is unavailable (for example, solar energy at night or wind energy on a calm day). Such devices also provide energy portability for consumer electronics and zero-emission options for transportation, in either hybrid or fully-electric vehicles. Many impressive battery technologies exist today, but the understanding of their operation is somewhat limited, which makes it very challenging to improve their performance. For example, battery microstructure - specifically, the assembly of particles into electrode systems - plays a critical role in determining the efficacy of the device, but available inspection technologies have limited characterization efforts to cells that have been depackaged or otherwise prepared for study. Such preparations present a practical limit to understanding how the battery works under realistic conditions. They also prohibit real-world studies of changes in microstructure - the very mechanisms that may lead to failure - as a function of operation.

Researchers at SSRL, General Motors, Imperial College London, National Taiwan University, and elsewhere have recently begun experimenting with 3-D transmission X-ray microscopy (TXM), in order to gain new insight into the microstructure of battery electrodes. Researchers from University College London, Imperial College London, the University of Manchester and Xradia, Inc., conducted a comprehensive multi-length scale investigation which enabled the introduction of guidelines for future battery microstructure investigations. ) They extended laboratory micron-scale imaging to both laboratory and synchrotron nano-imaging in order to characterize the types of information obtained at each length scale. The study found that laboratory micro-imaging reveals the bulk pore and transport pathways, while laboratory nano-scale TXM delivers the precise pore pathways (for example, tortuosity) and particle shapes. Synchrotron nano-scale TXM performed at SSRL Beam Line 6-2 clearly revealed intra-particle imperfections which have only been detected in the past on specially prepared samples imaged with TEM.

Using the power of both laboratory- and synchrotron-TXM, the precise 3-D information about battery micro- and nano-structures will enable a new generation of electrochemical research. The flexibility of the non-destructive approach is already enabling novel functional studies of electrode operation, and the recent work at SSRL will help guide this research to optimized results.


Primary Citation

P. R. Shearing, N. P. Brandon, J. Gelb, R. Bradley, P. J. Withers, A. J. Marquis, S. Cooper and S. J. Harris, "Multi Length Scale Microstructural Investigations of a Commercially Available Li-Ion Battery Electrode", Journal of The Electrochemical Society, 159 (7) A1023-A1027 (2012) [DOI: 10.1149/2.053207jes]

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Jeff Gelb, Xradia

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