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‘Popcorn’ particle pathways promise better lithium-ion batteries

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Posted June 12, 2013
These are LFP particles as seen by a transmission electron microscope with overlay of the chemical information as seen by a scanning transmission X-ray microscope. The red represents lithium iron phosphate while green represents iron phosphate, or LFP without lithium. Credit: Sandia National Laboratories

These are LFP particles as seen by a transmission electron microscope with overlay of the chemical information as seen by a scanning transmission X-ray microscope. The red represents lithium iron phosphate while green represents iron phosphate, or LFP without lithium. Credit: Sandia National Laboratories

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have confirmed the particle-by-particle mechanism by which lithium ions move in and out of electrodes made of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4, or LFP), findings that could lead to better performance in lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles, medical equipment and aircraft.

The research is reported in an article entitled, “Intercalation Pathway in Many-Particle LiFePO4 Electrode Revealed by Nanoscale State-of-Charge Mapping” in the journalNano Letters, 2013, 13 (3), pp 866-872. Authors include Sandia physicist Farid El Gabaly and William Chueh of Stanford University.

LFP, a natural mineral of the olivine family, is one of the newer materials being used in lithium-ion batteries and is known to be safer and longer-lasting than the lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2) compound used in smart phones, laptops and other consumer electronics.

While LFP material is intriguing to researchers and battery manufacturers for those reasons, the process by which lithium ions move in and out of LFP as the battery stores and releases its energy is not well understood. This has proven to be a barrier to the material’s widespread adoption.

Cathode materials like LFP are critical in the search for higher-capacity, long-life, lithium-ion batteries for applications where batteries can’t be replaced as easily or as often as they are in consumer electronics. Larger applications where lithium cobalt oxide cells eventually could be replaced by LFP batteries include electric vehicles and aircraft.

Popcorn-like particle movements seen via microscopy technique

By observing complete battery cross-sections, the researchers have provided key insights on a controversy over the process that limits the battery charging and discharging rates.

Previous attempts to optimize the charging/discharging speed have included coating the particles to increase their electrical conductivity and reducing particle size to speed up their transformation, but have overlooked the initiation process that may well be the critical rate-limiting step in the way that lithium moves from a particle’s exterior to its interior.

Read more at: Phys.org

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