Scientists identify chemical causes of battery 'capacity fade'

April 26, 2017
Scientists identify chemical causes of battery "capacity fade"
When manganese ions (gray) are stripped out of a battery’s cathode (blue), they can react with the battery’s electrolyte near the anode (gold), trapping lithium ions (green/yellow). Credit: Robert Horn/Argonne National Laboratory

Like you, me and everyone we know, batteries have a finite lifespan.

When a enters "old age," scientists refer to its diminished performance as " fade," in which the amount of charge a battery can supply decreases with repeated use. Capacity fade is the reason why a cell phone battery that used to last a whole day will, after a couple of years, last perhaps only a few hours.

But what if scientists could reduce this capacity fade, allowing batteries to age more gracefully?

"Now that we know the mechanisms behind the trapping of lithium ions and the capacity fade, we can find methods to solve the problem."

Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory identified one of the major culprits in capacity fade of high-energy batteries in a paper published in The Journal of the Electrochemical Society.

For a – the kind that we use in laptops, smartphones, and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles – the capacity of the battery is tied directly to the amount of lithium ions that can be shuttled back and forth between the two terminals of the battery as it is charged and discharged.

This shuttling is enabled by certain transition metal ions, which change oxidation states as lithium ions move in and out of the cathode. However, as the battery is cycled, some of these ions – most notably manganese – get stripped out of the cathode material and end up at the battery's anode.

Once near the anode, these interact with a region of the battery called the solid-electrolyte interphase, which forms because of reactions between the highly reactive anode and the liquid electrolyte that carries the lithium ions back and forth. For every electrolyte molecule that reacts and becomes decomposed in a process called reduction, a lithium ion becomes trapped in the interphase. As more and more lithium gets trapped, the capacity of the battery diminishes.

Some molecules in this interphase are incompletely reduced, meaning that they can accept more electrons and tie up even more lithium ions. These molecules are like tinder, awaiting a spark.

When the become deposited into this interphase they act like a spark igniting the tinder: these ions are efficient at catalyzing reactions with the incompletely reduced molecules, trapping more lithium ions in the process.

"There's a strict correlation between the amount of manganese that makes its way to the anode and the amount of lithium that gets trapped," said study coauthor and Argonne scientist Daniel Abraham. "Now that we know the mechanisms behind the trapping of ions and the capacity fade, we can find methods to solve the problem."

Explore further: New lithium ion battery strategy offers more energy, longer life cycle

More information: James A. Gilbert et al. Transition Metal Dissolution, Ion Migration, Electrocatalytic Reduction and Capacity Loss in Lithium-Ion Full Cells, Journal of The Electrochemical Society (2017). DOI: 10.1149/2.1111702jes

Related Stories

Making sodium-ion batteries that last

February 15, 2017

Lithium-ion batteries have become essential in everyday technology. But these power sources can explode under certain circumstances and are not ideal for grid-scale energy storage. Sodium-ion batteries are potentially a safer ...

Could a seawater battery help end our dependence on lithium?

December 7, 2016

With the ubiquity of lithium-ion batteries in smartphones and other rechargeable devices, it's hard to imagine replacing them. But the rising price of lithium has spurred a search for alternatives. One up-and-coming battery ...

"High-occupancy" vehicle (HOV) battery

August 17, 2016

In lithium-ion batteries, a singly charged lithium atom (or "ion") flows between two electrodes while one electron is contributed to the electrical current in the external circuit. If too many lithium ions are intercalated ...

The road to longer battery life

October 14, 2015

Are you sick of your phone's battery dying after only a few hours? Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are hard at work on improving something called the solid electrolyte interphase as a ...

Recommended for you

Slippery liquid surfaces confuse mussels

August 17, 2017

It all began with a bet at a conference in Italy in 2013. Nicolas Vogel, Ph.D., then a postdoctoral fellow in Joanna Aizenberg's lab at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and Harvard's ...

Researchers find a way to combat pharmacoterrorism

August 17, 2017

Using a novel molecular analysis technique, scientists at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have identified the chemical underpinnings of Captagon, also known as fenethylline, an illegal amphetamine-type stimulant that ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.