July 30, 2020: Researchers at the University of California will use Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy to observe lead batteries in real time at nanoscale while they charge and discharge, scientists said on July 27.
In partnership with the London-based Consortium for Battery Innovation, the scientists will explore the fundamental processes of crystallization and dissolution using the electron microscopic technology, which should give answers to key challenges facing advanced battery development.
The 18-month research project, the results of which will be shared with all CBI members, ultimately aims to control lead sulfate growth and dissolution, which has a direct effect on the life of lead batteries and also key performance characteristics such as DCA, said CBI technical manager Matt Raiford.
“It will use direct observation of current effects that inhibit battery performance, for instance lead dioxide growth on the positive and how that leads to contact loss,” he said.
“But also a cadre of experiments based on probing lead sulfate growth on the negative and how carbon and other species present during charge and discharge of the negative interact and are influenced by each other.”
Once data have been collected, they will be used to facilitate understanding on the specific benefits of additives, Raiford said, “which will shed light on what is contributing to deficits and lay the foundation for what specifically needs to be done to solve them.”
“Understanding these dissolution mechanisms (and hopefully how to control them) will open avenues to enhance cycle life, DCA and the energy density of lead batteries,” he said.
The work complements similar research that has been taking place at the Argonne National Laboratory, where real-time imaging is also used but with a synchrotron, which uses X-rays to probe the surface and form an image.
“Electron microscopy utilizes an electron beam as the probe source,” said Raiford. “Furthermore, the resolution is much higher for the electron microscope.”
“Lead batteries have been a mainstay of industry for more than 100 years, but there is a significant amount that is still to be understood about the fundamental reactions occurring in this chemistry,” said UCLA research team head Chris Regan.
The CBI says that with the ever-growing need for grid flexibility and stability, the US alone is predicted to require 100GW of energy storage by 2030. Batteries will be central to the transition.