Visualization and Quantification of Electrochemical and Mechanical Degradation in Li Ion Batteries

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Science  08 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6159, pp. 716-720
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241882

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Battery Breakdown

Although a range of materials can be used for chemically storing electrical charge, many cannot be made into batteries that retain their capacity over many cycles. Failure may be because of secondary reactions, poisoning through the formation of surface coatings, or volumetric changes leading to fracture. Ebner et al. (p. 716, published online 17 October) studied this last scenario in an operating battery using synchrotron x-ray tomographic microscopy, tracking both the chemical changes in the battery and the resulting mechanical changes in a tin oxide model system, which is known to undergo large volume changes.


High–energy-density materials that undergo conversion and/or alloying reactions hold promise for next-generation lithium (Li) ion batteries. However, these materials experience substantial volume change during electrochemical operation, which causes mechanical fracture of the material and structural disintegration of the electrode, leading to capacity loss. In this work, we use x-ray tomography during battery operation to visualize and quantify the origins and evolution of electrochemical and mechanical degradation. Tomography provides the time-resolved, three-dimensional chemical composition and morphology within individual particles and throughout the electrode. In the model material tin(II) oxide, we witness distributions in onset and rate of core-shell lithiation, crack initiation and growth along preexisting defects, and irreversible distortion of the electrode, highlighting tomography as a tool to guide the development of durable materials and strain-tolerant electrodes.

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