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The DOE Science News Source is a Newswise initiative to promote research news from the Office of Science of the DOE to the public and news media.
  • 2017-06-06 07:05:51
  • Article ID: 675927

Seeing the Forest and the Trees to Find Parasitic Reactions That Lead to Battery Failures

Atomic and mesoscale understanding of the formation of a layer of materials offers insights into ways to create a better battery

  • Credit: Nathan Johnson, PNNL

    Researchers built a new stage and created a designer electrolyte to obtain both detailed and broad overviews of a troubling layer that causes promising lithium-sulfur batteries to fail.

Everyone's heard the phrase about seeing both the details and the big picture, and that struggle comes into sharp relief for those studying how to create batteries that hold more energy and cost less. It's difficult to see the details of atomic and topographical changes that lead to battery failure. For DOE's Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), Vijay Murugesan and his colleagues at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Texas A&M University found a way. The result? They saw reactions that led to a layer that smothers the electrode in energy-dense -- but-short-lived -- lithium-sulfur batteries.

This research is thanks, in part, to a new device that let the team track the progression of sulfur in a vacuum inside a powerful scientific instrument and to the ability to model the reaction using advanced software and computing resources. "We can now realistically probe the reactions happening and view how the products actually spread," said Murugesan, researcher at PNNL.

Why It Matters: Better batteries affect everything from how you get to work to how long you can work on your laptop computer before finding an outlet. The results from this fundamental study benefit energy storage in two ways. First, to do the work, the team created a new "stage." This device let scientists determine the atomic composition and electronic and chemical state of the atoms on the electrode while the battery was running. Scientists can use this device to obtain a detailed view of other batteries.

"Doing this measurement is challenging," said Vaithiyalingam Shutthanandan, a PNNL scientist who worked on the research. "This is the first time we could access these levels of quantity and quality data while batteries were charging and discharging."

The second benefit of this study is the potential to solve the fading issue in lithium-sulfur batteries. "Sulfur is significantly cheaper than current cathode materials in lithium-ion batteries," said Murugesan. "So the total cost of a lithium-sulfur battery will be low. Simultaneously, the energy density will be a huge advantage-approximately five times more than lithium-ion batteries."

Methods: The team achieved the results thanks to a combination of scientific innovation and serendipity. The innovation came in building the unique stage for the X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) instrument. The researchers needed to track the sulfur in the battery, but sulfur volatilizes in a vacuum. All samples in an XPS are studied under vacuum. Combining the newly designed stage and ionic liquids as electrolyte media let the team operate the battery inside the XPS and monitor the growth of sulfur-based compounds to see the parasitic reactions.

"We designed a completely new capability for the XPS system," said Ashleigh Schwarz, who performed many of the XPS scans on the battery and helped determine the electrolyte to use on the stage.

The electrolyte's composition is crucial, as it must survive the vacuum used by XPS. Schwarz and her colleagues tested different compositions to see how well the electrolyte performed in the XPS. The team's choice contained 20 percent of the traditional solvent (DOL/DME) combined with an ionic solvent.

Using the XPS in analysis or spectroscopy mode, the team obtained the atomic information, including the atoms present and the chemical bonds between them. Switching over to an imaging or microscopic mode, the researchers acquired topological views of the solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI) layer forming. This view let them see where the elements were on the surface and more. The combination of views let them obtain critical information over a wide range of spatial resolutions, spanning from angstroms to micrometers as the battery drained and charged.

The XPS resides in EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science user facility at PNNL.

In addition, the team benefited from a serendipitous meeting at a national scientific conference. Murugesan was talking with Perla Balbuena, Texas A&M University, about her research into lithium-sulfur batteries. The pair quickly realized that her work on ab initio molecular dynamics modeling would benefit the experiments. Balbuena and her colleague Luis Camacho-Forero worked with the experimentalists to interpret the results and test new ideas about how the SEI layer forms. Knowing how the layer forms could lead to options that stop its formation altogether and greatly extend the battery life cycle.

What's Next? As part of JCESR, the team is continuing to answer tough questions necessary to create the next generation of energy storage technologies.

Acknowledgments

Sponsors: The in situ X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy cell designs were funded by the Chemical Imaging Initiative as part of the Laboratory Directed Research and Development effort at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The lithium-sulfur battery materials and measurements were funded through the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences. LECF and PBB acknowledge financial support from the Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Vehicle Technologies of the U.S. Department of Energy under the Advanced Battery Materials Research Program.

Facilities: The in situ X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy characterization was done in the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE Office of Science user facility sponsored by the Office of Biological and Environmental Research and located at PNNL. Supercomputer resources from Texas A&M University's High-Performance Computer Center and the Texas Advanced Computing Center were also used.

Research Team: Manjula Nandasiri, Ashleigh Schwarz, Vaithiyalingam Shutthanandan and Suntharampillai Thevuthasan, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Luis Camacho-Forero and Perla Balbuena, Texas A&M University; Karl Mueller and Vijayakumar Murugesan, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Joint Center for Energy Storage Research

Reference: Nandasiri MI, LE Camacho-Forero, AM Schwarz, V Shutthanandan, S Thevuthasan, PB Balbuena, KT Mueller, and V Murugesan. 2017. "In-Situ Chemical Imaging of Solid-Electrolyte Interphase Layer Evolution in Li-S Batteries." Chemistry of Materials. Article ASAP. DOI: 10.1021/acs.chemmater.7b00374

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Rutgers Scientists Discover 'Legos of Life'

Rutgers scientists have found the "Legos of life" - four core chemical structures that can be stacked together to build the myriad proteins inside every organism - after smashing and dissecting nearly 10,000 proteins to understand their component parts. The four building blocks make energy available for humans and all other living organisms, according to a study published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Small Hydroelectric Dams Increase Globally with Little Research, Regulations

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Researchers Reveal How Microbes Cope in Phosphorus-Deficient Tropical Soil

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Scientists Discover Material Ideal for Smart Photovoltaic Windows

Researchers at Berkeley Lab discovered that a form of perovskite, one of the hottest materials in solar research due to its high conversion efficiency, works surprisingly well as a stable and photoactive semiconductor material that can be reversibly switched between a transparent state and a non-transparent state, without degrading its electronic properties.

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On the Rebound

New research from the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and Stanford University has found that palladium nanoparticles can repair atomic dislocations in their crystal structure, potentially leading to other advances in material science.

Coupling Experiments to Theory to Build a Better Battery

A Berkeley Lab-led team of researchers has reported that a new lithium-sulfur battery component allows a doubling in capacity compared to a conventional lithium-sulfur battery, even after more than 100 charge cycles.

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Theoretical Physicist Elena Belova Named to Editorial Board of Physics of Plasmas

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Superconducting X-Ray Laser Takes Shape in Silicon Valley

An area known for high-tech gadgets and innovation will soon be home to an advanced superconducting X-ray laser that stretches 3 miles in length, built by a collaboration of national laboratories. On January 19, the first section of the machine's new accelerator arrived by truck at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park after a cross-country journey that began in Batavia, Illinois, at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Kelsey Stoerzinger Earns Young Investigator Lectureship

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North Dakota State University Joins Two National Distributed Computing Groups

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DOE Announces Funding for New HPC4Manufacturing Industry Projects

The Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) today announced the funding of $1.87 million for seven new industry projects under an ongoing initiative designed to utilize DOE's high-performance computing (HPC) resources and expertise to advance U.S. manufacturing and clean energy technologies.

DOE Announces First Awardees for New HPC4Materials for Severe Environments Program

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Two Argonne Scientists Recognized for a Decade of Breakthroughs

Two scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have been named to the Web of Science's Highly Cited List of 2017, ranking in the top 1 percent of their peers by citations and subject area. Materials Scientist Khalil Amine and Energy and Environmental Policy Scientist David Streets say they are thrilled to see their work -- and the laboratory -- recognized in such a way.

Argonne Welcomes Department of Energy Secretary Perry

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Argonne National Laboratory yesterday, getting a first-hand view of the multifaceted and interdisciplinary research program laboratory of the Department.

Argonne names John Quintana Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and COO

John Quintana has been named Deputy Laboratory Director for Operations and Chief Operations Officer (COO) of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

Developing Next-Generation Sensing Technologies

Recently, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced $20 million in funding for 15 projects that will develop a new class of sensor systems to enable significant energy savings via reduced demand for heating and cooling in residential and commercial buildings.


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Exploring Past, Present, and Future Water Availability Regionally, Globally

New open-source software simulates river and runoff resources.

Arctic Photosynthetic Capacity and Carbon Dioxide Assimilation Underestimated by Terrestrial Biosphere Models

New measurements offer data vital to projecting plant response to environmental changes.

DRIFTing to Fast, Precise Data

Non-destructive technique identifies key variations in Alaskan soils, quickly providing insights into carbon levels.

Superconducting Tokamaks Are Standing Tall

Plasma physicists significantly improve the vertical stability of a Korean fusion device.

Graphene Flexes Its Muscle

Crumpling reduces rigidity in an otherwise stiff material, making it less prone to catastrophic failure.

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New approach offers data across species, sites, and canopies, providing insights into carbon uptake by forests.

What's the Noise Eating Quantum Bits?

The magnetic noise caused by adsorbed oxygen molecules is "eating at" the phase stability of quantum bits, mitigating the noise is vital for future quantum computers.

Rewritable Wires Could Mean No More Obsolete Circuitry

An electric field switches the conductivity on and off in atomic-scale channels, which could allow for upgrades at will.

Filtering Water Better than Nature

Water passes through human-made straws faster than the "gold standard" protein, allowing us to filter seawater.

Machine Learning Provides a Bridge to the Texture of the Quantum World

Machine learning and neural networks are the foundation of artificial intelligence and image recognition, but now they offer a bridge to see and recognize exotic insulating phases in quantum materials.


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