The Next Leap in Battery Tech: Lithium-Ion Batteries Are No Longer the Gold Standard


Researchers are exploring the use of lithium metal as an anode in batteries to increase energy density but face challenges with the natural solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI), which is brittle and degrades performance. They are investigating artificial SEI (ASEI) layers, including polymeric and inorganic-organic hybrid types, to improve stability and functionality, addressing issues like dendrite growth and layer adhesion to pave the way for more efficient, safer lithium metal batteries.

Lithium metal, chosen for battery anodes due to its superior energy density compared to other materials, is a smart choice. Yet, challenges arise at the interface between the electrode and the electrolyte, presenting opportunities for enhancement to achieve safer and more efficient performance in future applications.

The Challenges and Solutions of Lithium Metal Anodes

Researchers from Tsinghua University are keen on replacing the graphite anode with a lithium metal anode to construct a battery system with higher energy density. However, the Li metal anode is unstable and readily reacts with electrolytes to form a solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI). Unfortunately, the natural SEI is brittle and fragile, resulting in poor lifespan and performance.

Here, the researchers have looked into a substitute for natural SEI, which could effectively mitigate the side reactions within the battery system. The answer is ASEI: artificial solid electrolyte interphase. ASEI corrects some of the issues plaguing the bare lithium metal anode to make a safer, more reliable, and even more powerful source of power that can be used with more confidence in electric vehicles and other similar applications.

Publication and Significance of Research

Now, the researchers published their findings in Energy Materials and Devices on September 25th.

“Battery technologies have been revolutionizing our lifestyle and are closely related to everyone’s life. To realize a truly carbon-free economy, batteries with better performance are required to replace current Li-ion batteries” said Yanyan Wang, author and researcher of the study.

Each wedge consists of different constructions of electrode-electrolyte interfaces to contribute to a practical design overhaul of lithium metal electrodes. Credit: Yanyan Wang, University of Adelaide

Lithium metal batteries (LMBs) are such a candidate. However, the anode, lithium metal, is reactive with electrolyte and a passivation layer, called a solid-electrolyte interphase, forms on the surface of lithium metal during battery operation.  Another issue of lithium metal anode is so-called “dendrite growth”, appearing during battery charging. Dendrites look like tree-branch structures that cause internal damage to the battery, leading to short-circuiting, poor performance, and potential safety hazards. These weaknesses altogether reduce the practicality of LMBs and pose some challenges that must be addressed.

Strategies for Improving Lithium Metal Anodes

The review introduced some strategies that can be employed to create a more effective and safer lithium metal anode. To improve upon the lithium metal anode, researchers found it is necessary to homogenize the distribution of lithium ions, which can help reduce the deposits on negatively charged areas of the batteries.

This, in turn, will reduce the dendrite formation which can prevent premature decay and short-circuiting. Additionally, creating an easier way for the lithium ions to diffuse while also ensuring the layers are electrically insulated can help retain the integrity of the structure, both physically and chemically, during battery cycling. Most importantly, reducing the strain between the interface of the electrode and electrolyte can ensure proper connectivity between the layers, which is an essential part of the functionality of the battery.

Potential of ASEI Layers and Future Directions

The strategies that appear to have the most potential are polymeric ASEI layers and inorganic-organic hybrid ASEI layers. The polymeric layers have sufficient adjustability in their design with the strength and elasticity being easily adjustable. Polymeric layers also have similar functional groups as electrolytes which makes them extremely compatible; this compatibility is one of the major areas other components lack.  Inorganic-organic hybrid layers are best for their reduction in layer thickness and marked improvement over the distribution of components within the layers, which improves the overall performance of the battery.

The future of the ASEI layers is bright but calls for some improvements. Researchers mainly would like to see improvement in the adhesion of the ASEI layers on the surface of the metal, which overall improves the function and longevity of the battery. Additional areas that require some attention are stability in the structure and chemistry within the layers, as well as minimizing the thickness of the layers to improve the energy density of the metal electrodes. Once these issues are worked out, the road ahead for an improved lithium metal battery should be well-paved.

Reference: “Developing artificial solid-state interphase for Li metal electrodes: recent advances and perspective” by Yanyan Wang, Mingnan Li, Fuhua Yang, Jianfeng Mao and Zaiping Guo, 25 September 2023, Energy Materials and Devices.
DOI: 10.26599/EMD.2023.9370005

Yanyan Wang, Mingnan Li, Fuhua Yang, Jianfeng Mao, and Zaiping Guo from the School of Engineering and Advanced Materials at the University of Adelaide contributed to this research.





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