"Revealing Nanoscale Passivation and Corrosion Mechanisms of Reactive Battery Materials in Gas Environments"

Yuzhang Li: Yanbin Li, Yongming Sun, Benjamin Butz, Kai Yan, Ai Leen Koh, Jie Zhao, Allen Pei, and Yi Cui; Nano Lett., 07/10/17.

Additional Authors: Yanbin Li, Yongming Sun, Benjamin Butz, Kai Yan, Ai Leen Koh, Jie Zhao, Allen Pei, and Yi Cui

Abstract:

Lithium (Li) metal is a high-capacity anode material (3860 mAh g–1) that can enable high-energy batteries for electric vehicles and grid-storage applications. However, Li metal is highly reactive and repeatedly consumed when exposed to liquid electrolyte (during battery operation) or the ambient environment (throughout battery manufacturing). Studying these corrosion reactions on the nanoscale is especially difficult due to the high chemical reactivity of both Li metal and its surface corrosion films. Here, we directly generate pure Li metal inside an environmental transmission electron microscope (TEM), revealing the nanoscale passivation and corrosion process of Li metal in oxygen (O2), nitrogen (N2), and water vapor (H2O). We find that while dry O2 and N2 (99.9999 vol %) form uniform passivation layers on Li, trace water vapor (∼1 mol %) disrupts this passivation and forms a porous film on Li metal that allows gas to penetrate and continuously react with Li. To exploit the self-passivating behavior of Li in dry conditions, we introduce a simple dry-N2 pretreatment of Li metal to form a protective layer of Li nitride prior to battery assembly. The fast ionic conductivity and stable interface of Li nitride results in improved battery performance with dendrite-free cycling and low voltage hysteresis. Our work reveals the detailed process of Li metal passivation/corrosion and demonstrates how this mechanistic insight can guide engineering solutions for Li metal batteries.

 

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