DOE News
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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.
    • 2014-12-02 14:00:00
    • Article ID: 626899

    Lengthening the Life of High Capacity Silicon Electrodes in Rechargeable Lithium Batteries

    Novel rubber-like coating could lead to longer lasting batteries

    • Credit: Chongmin Wang/PNNL

      Silicon nanoparticles coated in alucone (yellow spheres outlined in orange) expand and contract easily on charging and use. But left to their native silicon oxide covering (yellow spheres in blue), they break down fast on recharging.

    RICHLAND, Wash. – A new study will help researchers create longer-lasting, higher-capacity lithium rechargeable batteries, which are commonly used in consumer electronics. In a study published in the journal ACS Nano, researchers showed how a coating that makes high capacity silicon electrodes more durable could lead to a replacement for lower-capacity graphite electrodes.

    "Understanding how the coating works gives us an indication of the direction we need to move in to overcome the problems with silicon electrodes," said materials scientist Chongmin Wang of the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

    Thanks to its high electrical capacity potential, silicon is one of the hottest things in lithium ion battery development these days. Replacing the graphite electrode in rechargeable lithium batteries with silicon could increase the capacity ten-fold, making them last many hours longer before they run out of juice. The problem? Silicon electrodes aren't very durable — after a few dozen recharges, they can no longer hold electricity.

    That's partly due to how silicon takes up lithium — like a sponge. When charging, lithium infiltrates the silicon electrode. The lithium causes the silicon electrode to swell up to three times its original size. Possibly as a result of the swelling or for other unknown reasons, the silicon fractures and breaks down.

    Researchers have been using electrodes made up of tiny silicon spheres about 150 nanometers wide — about a thousand times smaller than a human hair — to overcome some of the limitations of silicon as an electrode. The small size lets silicon charge quickly and thoroughly — an improvement over earlier silicon electrodes — but only partly alleviates the fracturing problem.

    Last year, materials scientist Chunmei Ban and her colleagues at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, and the University of Colorado, Boulder found that they could cover silicon nanoparticles with a rubber-like coating made from aluminum glycerol. The coated silicon particles lasted at least five times longer — uncoated particles died by 30 cycles, but the coated ones still carried a charge after 150 cycles.

    Researchers did not know how this coating improved the performance of the silicon nanoparticles. The nanoparticles naturally grow a hard shell of silicon oxide on their surface, much like stainless steel forms a protective layer of chromium oxide on its surface. No one understood if the oxide layer interfered with electrode performance, and if so, how the rubbery coating improved it.

    To better understand how the coating worked, PNNL's Wang and colleagues, including Ban, turned to expertise and a unique instrument at EMSL, DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, a DOE Office of Science User Facility at PNNL.

    Ban's group — which developed the coating for silicon electrodes, called alucone, and is currently the only group that can create alucone-coated silicon particles — took high magnification images of the particles in an electron microscope. But Wang's team has a microscope that can view the particles in action, while they are being charged and discharged. So, Yang He from the University of Pittsburgh explored the coated silicon nanoparticles in action at EMSL.

    The team discovered that, without the alucone coating, the oxide shell prevents silicon from expanding and limits how much lithium the particle can take in when a battery charges. At the same time, they found that the alucone coating softens the particles, making it easier for them to expand and shrink with lithium.

    And the microscopic images revealed something else — the rubbery alucone replaces the hard oxide. That allows the silicon to expand and contract during charging and discharging, preventing fracturing.

    "We were amazed that the oxide was removed," said Wang. "Normally it's hard to remove an oxide. You have to use acid to do that. But this molecular deposition method that coats the particles completely changed the protective layer."

    In addition, the particles with the oxide shells tend to merge together during charging, increasing their size and preventing lithium from permeating the silicon. The rubbery coating kept the particles separated, allowing them to function optimally.

    In the future, the researchers would like to develop an easier method of coating the silicon nanoparticles.

    This work was supported by the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and PNNL.

    Reference: Yang He, Daniela Molina Piper, MengGu, Jonathan J. Travis, Steven M. George, Se-Hee Lee, Arda Genc, Lee Pullan, Jun Liu, Scott X. Mao, Ji-Guang Zhang, Chunmei Ban, and Chongmin Wang. In Situ Transmission Electron Microscopy Probing of Native Oxide and Artificial Layers on Silicon Nanoparticles for Lithium Ion Batteries, ACS Nano, October 27, 2014, DOI: 10.1021/nn505523c.

    EMSL, the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory, is a national scientific user facility sponsored by the Department of Energy's Office of Science. Located at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., EMSL offers an open, collaborative environment for scientific discovery to researchers around the world. Its integrated computational and experimental resources enable researchers to realize important scientific insights and create new technologies. Follow EMSL on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

    Interdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,300 staff and has an annual budget of more than $1 billion. It is managed by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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    Climate Simulations Project Wetter, Windier Hurricanes

    New supercomputer simulations by climate scientists at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have shown that climate change intensified the amount of rainfall in recent hurricanes such as Katrina, Irma, and Maria by 5 to 10 percent. They further found that if those hurricanes were to occur in a future world that is warmer than present, those storms would have even more rainfall and stronger winds.

    Tiny Titanium Barrier Halts Big Problem in Fuel-Producing Solar Cells

    New design coats molecular components and dramatically improves stability under tough, oxidizing conditions.

    X-Rays Show How Periods of Stress Changed an Ice Age Hyena to the Bone

    An international team has unearthed what life might have been like for a now-extinct subspecies of spotted hyena. They found that despite their massive size, some cave hyenas experienced times of hardship that affected them to the bone, causing areas of arrested growth that appear as dark lines, like rings on a tree trunk.

    Turning Wood Scraps into Tape

    A new chemical process converts a component of wasted wood pulp and other biomass into high-value pressure-sensitive adhesives.

    Very Heavy Elements Deliver More Electrons

    Scientists revise understanding of the limits of bonding for very electron-rich heavy elements.

    Detecting Light in a Different Dimension

    UPTON, NY--Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN)--a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory--have dramatically improved the response of graphene to light through self-assembling wire-like nanostructures that conduct electricity.

    From the Cosmos to Fusion Plasmas, PPPL Presents Findings at Global APS Gathering

    Invited Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory talks at 60th American Physical Society-Department of Plasma Physics annual meeting.

    Scientists Bring Polymers Into Atomic-Scale Focus

    A Berkeley Lab-led research has adapted a powerful electron-based imaging technique to obtain a first-of-its-kind image of atomic-scale structure in a synthetic polymer. The research could ultimately inform polymer fabrication methods and lead to new designs for materials and devices that incorporate polymers.

    Probing Water's "No-Man's Land" Temperature Region

    Measuring the physical properties of water at previously unexplored temperatures offers insights into one of the world's essential liquids.

    Novel Soil Bacteria with Unusual Genes Synthesize Unique Antibiotic Precursors

    A large-scale soil project uncovered genetic information from bacteria with the capacity to make specialized molecules that could lead to new pharmaceuticals.


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    DOE issues call for HPC for Energy Innovation proposals

    The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) High Performance Computing for Energy Innovation (HPC4EI) Initiative today issued its first joint solicitation for the High Performance Computing for Manufacturing Program (HPC4Mfg) and the High Performance Computing for Materials Program (HPC4Mtls).

    DOE funding advances project to turn captured CO2 into key chemicals

    The U.S. Department of Energy has selected Southern Research for an award of up to $1.5 million to advance technology for carbon dioxide utilization.

    Sierra Reaches Higher Altitudes, Takes Number Two Spot on List of Fastest Supercomputers

    Sierra, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's newest supercomputer, rose to second place on the list of the world's fastest computing systems, TOP500 List representatives announced Monday at the International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage and Analysis conference (SC18) in Dallas.

    Green energy: Wind energy agreement will provide savings, 50 percent of electricity needs for Kansas State University Manhattan campus

    Kansas State University has signed an agreement with Westar Energy to provide approximately 50 percent of the energy needs for the university's main Manhattan campus from a wind farm in Nemaha County and save the university nearly $200,000 annually.

    INCITE grants awarded to 62 computational research projects

    The U.S. Department of Energy announced new projects for 2019 through its Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program.

    Argonne's Raj Kettimuthu Named ACM Distinguished Member

    Argonne computer scientist Raj Kettimuthu recently was named a Distinguished Member of the Association for Computing Machinery for his development of tools to analyze and enhance end-to-end data transfer performance.

    Jefferson Lab-Affiliated Researchers Honored as APS Fellows

    The Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility now has a few more fellows on campus. The American Physical Society, a professional membership society that works on behalf of the physics community, recently announced its list of 2018 fellowships.

    Jefferson Lab Receives DOE Award for Energy Efficient Upgrade

    On Oct. 23, a team from the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility was honored at the 2018 Federal Energy and Water Management Award Ceremony for upgrades made to the lab's data center, ultimately improving its energy efficiency.

    Free Science Events and Educational Opportunities Expected to Draw Thousands

    The Plasma Sciences Expo--planned as the biggest celebration of plasma physics in the country--presents teachers, students and the public with a free opportunity to explore what scientists call "the fourth state of matter."

    Triad National Security Takes the Helm at Los Alamos National Laboratory

    LOS ALAMOS, N.M., November 1, 2018 -- Los Alamos National Laboratory begins operations today under a new management and operating (M&O) contract between Triad National Security, LLC (Triad) and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA awarded the M&O contract to Triad on June 8, 2018.


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    Tiny Titanium Barrier Halts Big Problem in Fuel-Producing Solar Cells

    New design coats molecular components and dramatically improves stability under tough, oxidizing conditions.

    Turning Wood Scraps into Tape

    A new chemical process converts a component of wasted wood pulp and other biomass into high-value pressure-sensitive adhesives.

    Very Heavy Elements Deliver More Electrons

    Scientists revise understanding of the limits of bonding for very electron-rich heavy elements.

    Probing Water's "No-Man's Land" Temperature Region

    Measuring the physical properties of water at previously unexplored temperatures offers insights into one of the world's essential liquids.

    Novel Soil Bacteria with Unusual Genes Synthesize Unique Antibiotic Precursors

    A large-scale soil project uncovered genetic information from bacteria with the capacity to make specialized molecules that could lead to new pharmaceuticals.

    Warmer Temperatures Lengthen Growing Season, Increase Plants' Vulnerability to Frost

    Experimental warming treatments show how peatland forests may respond to future environmental change.

    Rising Stars Seek to Learn from the Master: Mother Nature

    A trio of scientists was recognized for their early career successes in uncovering how microbes produce fuel, insights that could change our energy portfolio

    How Plant Cells Decide When to Make Oil

    Signaling mechanism details discovered, potentially leading to strategies to engineer plants that make more bio-oil.

    Cryocooler Cools an Accelerator Cavity

    Researchers demonstrated cryogen-free operation of a superconducting radio-frequency cavity that might ease barriers to its use in societal applications.

    Shining Light on the Separation of Rare Earth Metals

    New studies identify key molecular characteristics to potentially separate rare earth metals cleanly and efficiently with light.


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