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Researchers inspect Li-ion batteries at nanoscale

Posted: 21 Sep 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Li-ion? battery? electrochemical? strain? microscopy?

Lithium-ion batteries are being put under the microscope at the US Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to give scientists a closer look at how they function at the nanoscale and help them create more efficient batteries. So far, ORNL researchers have created a new type of scanning probe microscopy called electrochemical strain microscopy (ESM) to learn how lithium ions move through a battery's cathode material.

In a report titled "Nanoscale mapping of ion diffusion in a lithium-ion battery cathode" and published in "Nature Nanotechnology," Nina Balke, Stephen Jesse and Sergei Kalinin described how they managed to view "ionic motion in nanometer volumes." They said the achievement "exceeds state-of-the-art electrochemical techniques by six to seven orders of magnitude."

Conventional electrochemical techniques are useless in the nanoscale level since the electrochemical currents are too small to measure, Kalinin said. The research team applied voltage with an ESM probe to the surface of the battery's layered cathode and measured the corresponding electrochemical strain, or volume change to see the lithium ions' movement.

The ESM technique they used can show individual grains, grain clusters and defects inside the cathode material.

One of the significant findings is that lithium ion flow can focus on grain boundaries, making the battery prone to failure.

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