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Understanding the Processes at the Electrode/Electrolyte Interface in Batteries

In order to improve the safety and durability of batteries, for example those used in electric cars, it is necessary to understand the processes that take place inside them down to the atomic level. Tong Li intends to lay the foundations for this as part of a Consolidator Grant.

Accounts of exploding cell phone batteries and electric cars on fire are a constant reminder of the dangers of batteries with high energy densities. However, when it comes to developing longer-lasting and safer batteries, we don’t yet have detailed knowledge of the electrochemical processes inside the battery, or more precisely at the interface between the electrode and the electrolyte. Professor Tong Li hopes to close this gap. She is Professor for Atomic-Scale Characterizationat Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, and has been awarded a Consolidator Grant by the European Research Council. Using a highly specific method, namely atomic probe tomography, the Bochum-based researcher is able to better understand electrochemical processes with atomic resolution.

Visualizing processes at the interface one atom at a time

Lithium-metal batteries contain two electrodes between which lithium ions move through an electrolyte solution. What happens between the electrode and the electrolyte is crucial for the safety and performance of the battery. Important is, on the one hand, the interface, i.e. the point where solid electrode and liquid electrolyte meet. On the other hand, the so-called solid electrolyte interphases play a role, i.e. the physical states that occur in the region of the interface. If one could control the stability of the interface and the interphases, one could make batteries safer and more efficient.

For example, Tong Li is interested in the phenomenon of dendrite formation: Lithium ions can be deposited on one of the electrodes and form branched structures that permeate the electrolyte. If they penetrate the separator, which is supposed to electrically isolate the electrodes from each other, and reach the cathode, they cause a short circuit. As part of the ERC grant, Tong Li plans to investigate how the electrode/electrolyte interfaces and interphases affect the lithium deposition.

The grant is funded with approximately 2,2 million euros for five years. The project „Unveiling Atomic-Scale Elemental Distribution of Electrode/Electrolyte Interfaces and Interphase in Batteries“ starts in 2024.

Professor Tong Li

Tong Li holds the professorship for Atomic-Scale Characterisation at the Institute for Materials at Ruhr University Bochum.


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ERC Consolidator Grant Projects
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