Detection of subsurface structures underneath dendrites formed on cycled lithium metal electrodes


Failure caused by dendrite growth in high-energy-density, rechargeable batteries with lithium metal anodes has prevented their widespread use in applications ranging from consumer electronics to electric vehicles. Efforts to solve the lithium dendrite problem have focused on preventing the growth of protrusions from the anode surface. Synchrotron hard X-ray microtomography experiments on symmetric lithium–polymer–lithium cells cycled at 90 °C show that during the early stage of dendrite development, the bulk of the dendritic structure lies within the electrode, underneath the polymer/electrode interface. Furthermore, we observed crystalline impurities, present in the uncycled lithium anodes, at the base of the subsurface dendritic structures. The portion of the dendrite protruding into the electrolyte increases on cycling until it spans the electrolyte thickness, causing a short circuit. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that preventing dendrite formation in polymer electrolytes depends on inhibiting the formation of subsurface structures in the lithium electrode.

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Figure 1: Evolution of dendrite growth.
Figure 2: Shift of dendrite volume fraction from electrode to electrolyte.
Figure 3: Comparison of 3D reconstructions with SEM.
Figure 4: Crystallites at base of dendrites.


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Primary financial support for the work was provided by the Electron Microscopy of Soft Matter Program from the Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences and Engineering Division of the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 and the BATT programme from the Vehicle Technologies programme, through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy under US DOE Contract DE-AC02-05CH11231. Hard X-ray microtomography experiments were performed at the Advanced Light Source, which is supported by the Director, Office of Science, Office of Basic Energy Sciences, of the US Department of Energy under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231. K.J.H. was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

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K.J.H. and D.T.H. prepped samples and performed the experiments. D.Y.P. and A.A.M. aided in synchrotron experimental set-up and discussion of results. K.J.H. and N.P.B. prepared figures and composed the manuscript. N.P.B. directed the work.

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Correspondence to Nitash P. Balsara.

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Harry, K., Hallinan, D., Parkinson, D. et al. Detection of subsurface structures underneath dendrites formed on cycled lithium metal electrodes. Nature Mater 13, 69–73 (2014).

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