A major challenge in the development of new battery materials is understanding their fundamental mechanisms of operation and degradation. Their microscopically inhomogeneous nature calls for characterization tools that provide operando and localized information from individual grains and particles. Here, we describe an approach that enables imaging the nanoscale distribution of ions during electrochemical charging of a battery in a transmission electron microscope liquid flow cell. We use valence energy-loss spectroscopy to track both solvated and intercalated ions, with electronic structure fingerprints of the solvated ions identified using an ab initio nonlinear response theory. Equipped with the new electrochemical cell holder, nanoscale spectroscopy and theory, we have been able to determine the lithiation state of a LiFePO4 electrode and surrounding aqueous electrolyte in real time with nanoscale resolution during electrochemical charge and discharge. We follow lithium transfer between electrode and electrolyte and image charging dynamics in the cathode. We observe competing delithiation mechanisms such as core–shell and anisotropic growth occurring in parallel for different particles under the same conditions. This technique represents a general approach for the operando nanoscale imaging of electrochemically active ions in the electrode and electrolyte in a wide range of electrical energy storage systems.
The battery material, LiFePO4, was electrochemically charged and discharged in situ using LC-STEM. The lithiation state of the material during electrochemical cycling was identified and tracked in real time using valence electron-energy loss spectroscopy (EELS).
Keywords: Electrochemistry; Batteries; EELS