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    • 2018-05-24 16:45:35
    • Article ID: 695125

    Better, Faster, Stronger: Building Batteries That Don't Go Boom

    • Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

      The diamond-tipped probe Herbert and Hackney use for their research is incredibly sensitive and must be housed in a compartment that muffles any sort of vibrations.

    • Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

      Stephen Hackney, professor, and Erik Herbert, assistant professor, both of materials science and engineering, reseach the properties of lithium at the nanoscale to understand how the metal reacts under pressure with an eye toward improving solid-state batteries.

    • Credit: Sarah Bird/Michigan Tech

      The Olympus microscope system Herbert and Hackney use to perform indentation procedures on lithium films. The films, because they are extremely reactive to air and water, must be handled in a sealed compartment filled with argon gas.

    There’s an old saying: “You must learn to walk before you learn to run.” Despite such wisdom, numerous industries skip the basics and sign up for marathons instead, including the battery industry.

    Lithium ion batteries hold incredible promise for improved storage capacity, but they are volatile. We’ve all heard the news about lithium ion batteries in phones—most notably the Samsung Galaxy 7—causing phones to catch fire.

    Much of the problem arises from the use of flammable liquid electrolyte inside the battery. One approach is to use a non-flammable solid electrolyte together with a lithium metal electrode. This would increase the energy of the battery while at the same time decreasing the possibility of a fire.

    Essentially, the destination is building next generation solid-state batteries that don’t go boom. The journey is to fundamentally understand lithium.

    “Everybody is just looking at the energy storage components of the battery,” says Erik Herbert, assistant professor of materials science and engineering at Michigan Technological University. “Very few research groups are interested in understanding the mechanical elements. But low and behold, we’re discovering that the mechanical properties of lithium itself may be the key piece of the puzzle.”

    Michigan Tech researchers contribute significantly to gaining a fundamental understanding of lithium with results published today in an invited three-paper series in the Journal of Materials Research, published jointly by the Materials Research Society and Cambridge University Press. Herbert and Stephen Hackney, professor of materials science and engineering, along with Violet Thole, a graduate student at Michigan Tech, Nancy Dudney at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Sudharshan Phani at the International Advanced Research Centre for Powder Metallurgy and New Materials, share results that underscore the significance of lithium’s mechanical behavior in controlling the performance and safety of next generation batteries.

    Like a freeze-thaw cycle damaging concrete, lithium dendrites damage batteries

    Lithium is an extremely reactive metal, which makes it prone to misbehavior. But it is also very good at storing energy. We want our phones (and computers, tablets and other electronic devices) to charge as quickly as possible, and so battery manufacturers face twin pressures: Make batteries that charge very quickly, passing a charge between the cathode and anode as fast as possible, and make the batteries reliable despite being charged repeatedly. 

    Lithium is a very soft metal, but it doesn’t behave as expected during battery operation. Mounting pressure that inextricably occurs during charging and discharging a battery results in microscopic fingers of lithium called dendrites to fill pre-existing and unavoidable microscopic flaws—grooves, pores and scratches—at the interface between the lithium anode and the solid electrolyte separator.

    During continued cycling, these dendrites can force their way into, and eventually through, the solid electrolyte layer that physically separates the anode and cathode. Once a dendrite reaches the cathode, the device short circuits and fails, often catastrophically. Herbert and Hackney’s research focuses on how lithium mitigates the pressure that naturally develops during charging and discharging a solid-state battery. 

    Their work documents the remarkable behavior of lithium at submicron length scales—drilling down into the lithium’s smallest and arguably most befuddling attributes. By indenting lithium films with a diamond-tipped probe to deform the metal, the researchers explore how the metal reacts to pressure. Their results confirm the unexpectedly high strength of lithium at small-length scales reported earlier this year by researchers at Cal Tech.

    Herbert and Hackney build on that research by providing the inaugural, mechanical explanation of lithium’s surprisingly high strength.

    Lithium’s ability to diffuse or rearrange its own atoms or ions in an attempt to alleviate the pressure imposed by the indenter tip, showed researchers the importance of the speed at which lithium is deformed (which is related to how fast batteries are charged and discharged), as well as the effects of defects and deviations in the arrangement of lithium ions that comprise the anode. 

    Drilling down to understand the behavior of lithium

    In the article “Nanoindentation of high-purity vapor deposited lithium films: The elastic modulus,” researchers measure the elastic properties of lithium to reflect changes in the physical orientation of lithium ions. These results emphasize the necessity of incorporating lithium’s orientation-dependent elastic properties into all future simulation work. Herbert and Hackney also provide experimental evidence that indicates lithium may have an enhanced ability to transform mechanical energy into heat at length scales less than 500 nanometers.

    In the article that follows, “Nanoindentation of high-purity vapor deposited lithium films: A mechanistic rationalization of diffusion-mediated flow,” Herbert and Hackney document lithium’s remarkably high strength at length scales less than 500 nanometers, and they provide their original framework, which aims to explain how lithium’s ability to manage pressure is controlled by diffusion and the rate at which the material is deformed.

    Finally, in “Nanoindentation of high-purity vapor deposited lithium films: A mechanistic rationalization of the transition from diffusion to dislocation-mediated flow,” the authors provide a statistical model that explains the conditions under which lithium undergoes an abrupt transition that further facilitates its ability to alleviate pressure. They also provide a model that directly links the mechanical behavior of lithium to the performance of the battery.

    “We’re trying to understand the mechanisms by which lithium alleviates pressure at length scales that are commensurate with interfacial defects,” Herbert says. Improving our understanding of this fundamental issue will directly enable the development of a stable interface that promotes safe, long-term and high-rate cycling performance.

    Says Herbert: “I hope our work has a significant impact on the direction people take trying to develop next-gen storage devices.”

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    Missing gamma-ray blobs shed new light on dark matter, cosmic magnetism

    Scientists, including researchers from the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, have compiled the most detailed catalog of such blobs using eight years of data collected with the Large Area Telescope (LAT) on NASA's Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope. The blobs, including 19 gamma-ray sources that weren't known to be extended before, provide crucial information on how stars are born, how they die, and how galaxies spew out matter trillions of miles into space.

    Applying Auto Industry's Fuel-Efficiency Standards to Agriculture Could Net Billions in Corn Sector, Researchers Conclude

    Adopting benchmarks similar to the fuel-efficiency standards used by the auto industry in the production of fertilizer could yield $5-8 billion in economic benefits for the U.S. corn sector alone, researchers have concluded in a new analysis.

    How Animals Use Their Tails to Swish and Swat Away Insects

    A new study shows how animals use their tails to keep mosquitoes at bay by combining a swish that blows away most of the biting bugs and a swat that kills the ones that get through.

    Research on Light-Matter Interaction Could Lead to Improved Electronic and Optoelectronic Devices

    A paper published in Nature Communications by Sufei Shi, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, increases our understanding of how light interacts with atomically thin semiconductors and creates unique excitonic complex particles, multiple electrons, and holes strongly bound together.

    Next-Gen Ultrafast Optical Fiber-Based Electron Gun to Reveal Atomic Motions During Transition State

    A new method enables researchers to directly observe and capture atomic motions at surfaces and interfaces in real time.

    Intense Microwave Pulse Ionizes Its Own Channel Through Plasma

    Researchers experimentally observed the ionization-induced channeling of an intense microwave beam propagating through a neutral gas (>103 Pa).

    Ancient Pigment Can Boost Energy Efficiency

    Egyptian blue, derived from calcium copper silicate, was routinely used on ancient depictions of gods and royalty. Previous studies have shown that when Egyptian blue absorbs visible light, it then emits light in the near-infrared range. Now a team led by researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has confirmed the pigment's fluorescence can be 10 times stronger than previously thought.

    Expanding Fungal Diversity, One Cell at a Time

    Reported October 8, 2018, in Nature Microbiology, a team led by U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute researchers developed a pipeline to generate genomes from single cells of uncultivated fungi. The approach was tested on several uncultivated species representing early diverging fungi.

    Columbia Engineers Build Smallest Integrated Kerr Frequency Comb Generator

    Optical frequency combs can enable ultrafast processes in physics, biology, and chemistry, as well as improve communication and navigation, medical testing, and security. Columbia Engineers have built a Kerr frequency comb generator that, for the first time, integrates the laser with the microresonator, significantly shrinking the system's size and power requirements. They no longer need to connect separate devices using fiber--they can now integrate it all on compact and energy efficient photonic chips.

    Scientists Present New Clues to Cut Through the Mystery of Titan's Atmospheric Haze

    Experiments at Berkeley Lab helped scientists zero in on a low-temperature chemical mechanism that may help to explain the complex molecular compounds that make up the nitrogen-rich haze layer surrounding Titan, Saturn's largest moon.


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    Prototype Solar Energy, Battery Systems to Fuel Commercialization

    Designing, building and testing prototype systems that show how renewable energy can power devices, such as a weather and soil sensor station, can help bridge the gap between basic science research and commercialization.

    Argonne to Advance High Performance Computing in Manufacturing

    Argonne awarded funding to partner with Industry to advance the use of high performance computing in manufacturing.

    "Invisible Glass" Wins 2018 Create the Future Design Contest Grand Prize

    Scientists from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials developed a technique for making nonreflecting glass, silicon, and plastic surfaces.

    Missouri S&T researchers win multimillion dollar grant to build fast-charging stations for electric cars

    Researchers from Missouri S&T and three private companies will combine their expertise to create charging stations for electric vehicles that could charge a car in less than 10 minutes - matching the time it takes to fill up a conventional vehicle with gasoline."The big problem with electric vehicles is range, and it's not so much range as range anxiety.

    Making batteries store more energy, last longer

    A new solid polymer electrolyte may help make cell phone batteries store more energy and last longer.

    Three Brookhaven Lab Scientists Named Fellows of American Physical Society

    The American Physical Society (APS), the world's largest physics organization, has elected three scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory as 2018 APS fellows.

    Southern Research first to win accreditation under ISO 14034

    Southern Research has become the first organization in the United States to earn accreditation under ISO 14034, a new international standard for evaluating and verifying environmental technologies that was recently adopted by the American National Standards Institute.

    Kawtar Hafidi to head Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate at Argonne

    Physicist Kawtar Hafidi has been appointed Associate Laboratory Director, Physical Sciences and Engineering at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory.

    Argonne researchers honored by Energy Secretary's awards program

    A select group of researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory was recently recognized for their contributions to infrastructure security and nuclear nonproliferation at the Secretary's Honor Awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., on August 29.

    PPPL's Sam Cohen earns award at meeting of U.S. government-funded laboratories hosted by PPPL

    PPPL physicist Sam Cohen and a local company win a Federal Laboratory Consortium award for a rocket propulsion technology.


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    How to Make Soot and Stardust

    Scientists unlock mystery that could help reduce emissions of fine particles from combustion engines and other sources.

    Breaking the Symmetry Between Fundamental Forces

    Scientists improve our understanding of the relationship between fundamental forces by re-creating the earliest moments of the universe.

    Water Plays Unexpected Role in Forming Minerals

    Water molecules line up tiny particles to attach and form minerals; understanding how this happens impacts energy extraction and storage along with waste disposal.

    Heavy Particles Get Caught Up in the Flow

    First direct measurement show how heavy particles containing a charm quark get caught up in the flow of early universe particle soup.

    Seeing Between the Atoms

    New detector enables electron microscope imaging at record-breaking resolution.

    Scaling Up Single-Crystal Graphene

    New method can make films of atomically thin carbon that are over a foot long.

    Discovered: Optimal Magnetic Fields Suppress Instabilities in Tokamak Plasmas

    U.S. and Korean scientists show how to find and use beneficial 3-D field perturbations to stabilize dangerous edge-localized modes in plasma.

    New Electron Glasses Sharpen Our View of Atomic-Scale Features

    A new approach to atom probe tomography promises more precise and accurate measurements vital to semiconductors used in computers, lasers, detectors, and more.

    Getting an Up-Close, 3-D View of Gold Nanostars

    Scientists can now measure 3-D structures of tiny particles with properties that hold promise for advanced sensors and diagnostics.

    Small, Short-Lived Drops of Early Universe Matter

    Particle flow patterns suggest even small-scale collisions create drops of early universe quark-gluon plasma.


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