Understanding Formation and Evolution of Lithium-ion Anode SEI

Graduate Research Assistant

University of Rhode Island

Aug 2012 - Dec 2017

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Lithium ion batteries are widely used as energy storage devices in a variety of products such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and other portable electronics. Thanks to their high energy density and cyclability, they are currently being used by and developed for electric vehicles. There is a growing need for cost reduction; increase in energy density; wider operating temperature range; and improved safety characteristics of the batteries.

Organic carbonates are the primary solvents used in lithium-ion battery electrolytes along with electrolyte additives. The reversibility of current lithium-ion batteries is dependent upon the electrolyte used in the batteries. During the initial charging cycles of the cell, a solid electrolyte interface (SEI) is formed by reduction of organic carbonates, electrolyte salts and/or electrolyte additives on the surface of the graphitic anode in lithium-ion batteries. The generation of a stable anode SEI prevents continuous electrolyte reduction on the surface of the anode. The SEI functions as a Li ion conductor but an electrical insulator.

The reduction reactions of the electrolytes on the graphitic anode surface have been investigated for many years and it been proposed to contain a complicated mixture of products including lithium oxalate, lithium alkoxides, and lithium oxide from the carbonate solvents and LiF and lithium fluorophosphates from the reduction of LiPF6. Similar ambiguity exists about the components of SEI formed from electrolyte additives and other electrolyte salts. Despite the extensive investigations, the structure, formation mechanisms and evolution of the SEI are poorly understood. Understanding the mechanisms of the reduction reactions of organic carbonates, electrolyte salts and electrolyte additives along with the products of the reactions which result in the generation of the SEI is essential for the development of safer lithium-ion batteries with wider operating temperature range.

Lithium naphthalenide has been investigated as a one electron reducing agent for organic carbonates solvents, some of the most robust additives and salts used in lithium ion battery electrolytes. The reaction precipitates have been analyzed by IR-ATR, XPS and solution NMR spectroscopy. The evolved gases and the volatile components have been analyzed by GC-MS. The reduction products of ethylene carbonate and propylene carbonate are lithium ethylene dicarbonate (LEDC) and ethylene and lithium propylene dicarbonate (LPDC) and propylene, respectively. The reduction products of diethyl and dimethyl carbonate are lithium ethyl carbonate (LEC) and ethane and lithium methyl carbonate(LMC) and methane, respectively. Electrolyte additives, FEC and VC reductively decompose to HCO₂Li, Li₂C₂O₄, Li₂CO₃, and polymerized VC. All the fluorine containing salts generate LiF upon reduction. In addition to LiF, LiBF₄ generates LixByFz species; LiBOB and LiDFOB generate lithium oxalate and boron-oxalatoesters; LiPF₆ yields LiPF₂ species and LiTFSI produces lithium bis[N-(trifluoromethylsulfonylimino)] trifluoromethanesulfonate.

The poor thermal stability of the SEI layer has been attributed to exothermic reactions between lithium alkyl carbonates and LiPF₆. While the relationship between capacity fade and SEI instability is clear, and there have been some investigations of SEI component evolution, the mechanism of SEI component decomposition is complicated by the presence of many different components. The thermal stability of Li₂CO₃, LMC, and LEDC in the presence of LiPF₆ in dimethyl carbonate (DMC), a common salt and solvent, respectively, in lithium ion battery electrolytes, has been investigated to afford a better understanding of the evolution of the SEI. The residual solids from the reaction mixtures have been characterized by a combination of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and infrared spectroscopy with attenuated total reflectance (FTIR-ATR), while the solution and evolved gases have been investigated by nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and gas chromatography with mass selective detection (GC-MS). The thermal decomposition of Li₂CO₃ and LiPF₆ in DMC yields CO₂, LiF, and F₂PO₂Li. The thermal decomposition of LMC and LEDC with LiPF₆ in DMC results in the generation of a complicated mixture including CO₂, LiF, ethers, phosphates, and fluorophosphates.

These works were published through a series of academic papers and garnered over 800 citations.