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Silver matrix formations to improve lithium-based battery

20 Jan 2015  | Paul Buckley

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Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University have employed X-ray techniques to plot transformations that occur within lithium-based battery silver vanadium diphosphate (Ag2VP2O8) electrodes. The cathode processes that they have observed could improve next-generation batteries.

In a promising lithium-based battery, the formation of a highly conductive silver matrix transforms a material otherwise plagued by low conductivity. To optimise these multi-metallic batteries, the scientists needed a way to see where, when and how these silver, nanoscale 'bridges' emerge.

The Brookhaven study, which was published online in the journal Science, showed that a slow discharge rate early in the battery's life creates a more uniform and expansive conductive network, which suggests new design approaches and optimisation techniques. ??

"Armed with this insight into battery cathode discharge processes, we can target new materials designed to address critical battery issues associated with power and efficiency," explained study co-author Esther Takeuchi, a SUNY Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook University and Chief Scientist in Brookhaven Lab's Basic Energy Sciences Directorate. ??

Non-discharged cathode

The scientists used bright X-ray beams at Brookhaven Lab's National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, to probe lithium batteries with Ag2VP2O8 electrodes. The cathode material, which may be useful in implantable medical devices, exhibits the high stability, high voltage and spontaneous matrix formation central to the research.??

"The experimental work—in particular the in-situ X-ray diffraction in batteries totally encased in stainless steel—should prove useful for industry as it can penetrate prototype and production-level batteries to track their structural evolution during operation," suggested Takeuchi.

As these single-use batteries—synthesised and assembled by Stony Brook graduate student David Bock—discharge, the lithium ions stored in the anode travel to the cathode, displacing silver ions along the way. The displaced silver then combines with free electrons and unused cathode material to form the conductive silver metal matrix, acting as a conduit for the otherwise impeded electron flow.

"To visualise the cathode processes within the battery and watch the silver network take shape, we needed a very precise system with high-intensity X-rays capable of penetrating a steel battery casing," said study co-author and Stony Brook University Research Associate Professor Amy Marschilok. "So we turned to NSLS."

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