Nanoscale Imaging of Fundamental Li Battery Chemistry: Solid-Electrolyte Interphase Formation and Preferential Growth of Lithium Metal Nanoclusters

Sacci, Robert L., Jennifer M. Black, Nina Balke, Nancy J. Dudney, Karren L. More and Raymond R. Unocic, 2015
electrochemical potential sweep measurements and site-specific structure imaging via in situ TEM
Image courtesy of Nano Letters


The performance characteristics of Li-ion batteries are intrinsically linked to evolving nanoscale interfacial electrochemical reactions. To probe the mechanisms of solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) formation and to track Li nucleation and growth mechanisms from a standard organic battery electrolyte (LiPF6 in EC:DMC), we used in situ electrochemical scanning transmission electron microscopy (ec-S/TEM) to perform controlled electrochemical potential sweep measurements while simultaneously imaging site-specific structures resulting from electrochemical reactions. A combined quantitative electrochemical measurement and STEM imaging approach is used to demonstrate that chemically sensitive annular dark field STEM imaging can be used to estimate the density of the evolving SEI and to identify Li-containing phases formed in the liquid cell. We report that the SEI is approximately twice as dense as the electrolyte as determined from imaging and electron scattering theory. We also observe site-specific locations where Li nucleates and grows on the surface and edge of the glassy carbon electrode. Lastly, this report demonstrates the investigative power of quantitative nanoscale imaging combined with electrochemical measurements for studying fluid–solid interfaces and their evolving chemistries.

Impact Statement

The formation of the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI) layer on the surface of working electrode and site-specific formation of lithium nanostructures were observed during electrochemical potential sweeps of lithium hexafluorophosphate battery material i using LC-STEM.