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Engineers and chemists from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have collaborated to create new electro microscope and data mining techniques to visually pinpoint areas of chemical and physical change inside ion batteries, the university announced on its website.
In a study published in Nature Materials, they have mapped changes within a battery at the nanoscale, with a tenfold improvement in resolution compared to previous methods. The new method has enabled the collection of images of the internal mechanisms of batteries, unlike previous studies that focused on the chemical effects of charging cycles.
According to Wenxiang Chen, lead author of the study, ions diffuse in and out of the electrodes during the operation of rechargeable ion batteries, creating a mechanical strain and sometimes the occurrence of faults. Through the new method, we can now for the first time capture the nano-scale strain-created domains inside a battery.
This type of microstructural heterogeneous transformation has previously been studied in ceramics and metallurgy, but not when it comes to energy storage materials. The combined data show a pattern of nucleation, growth, and coalescence inside the batteries, which affects the performance of the battery. Qian Chen, co-author of the study, plans to continue working on the study by creating videos of how the process works.
The impact of this research may go beyond the ion-battery system studied here. According to Paul Braun, another co-author, the concept, principles, and enabling characterization framework can be applied to electrodes in a variety of lithium and post-lithium batteries. Beyond that, it can be applied to other electrochemical systems that include fuel cells, synaptic transistors, and electrolytic cells.
Thus, the method enables improvements of a completely new character in energy storage and combustion.