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Scientists at SLAC’s synchrotron observe ‘breathing’ layer during battery operation

Posted April 4, 2014
Scientists at SLAC's synchrotron observe 'breathing' layer during battery operation
These figures show the Swiss-cheese-like structure of an ultrathin nickel-oxide sheet, used as an electrode in a lithium-ion battery: (a) prior to the battery’s operation; (b) while discharging; (c) while charging; and (d) after a full cycle of discharging and charging. The blue arrows show the direction of chemical reactions spreading through the material during the battery’s operation. Credit: F. Lin et al./Nature Communications
High-tech “smart windows,” which darken to filter out sunlight in response to electric current, function much like batteries. Now, X-ray studies at SLAC provide a crystal-clear view into how the color-changing material in these windows behaves in a working battery – information that could benefit next-generation rechargeable batteries.

Researchers installed ultrathin sheets of smart-window material, nickel oxide, as the anode in a lithium-ion battery, and used SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) and equipment at other labs to study its changing chemistry and 3-D features.

“We switched our attention from changing the color of these materials to using them to store lithium ions, but the principle is the same,” said Feng Lin of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, lead author of the study, published in Nature Communications.

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