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Watching Dendrites Grow


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Personally I have never had a battery burst into flames, but I have had some swell on me, and lose performance. The reason this happens is to do with tiny structures called dendrites that form within lithium-ion batteries, and have proven somewhat difficult to stop. Researchers at ORNL, however, have now, for the first time, imaged the formation of these structures in real time, which could help defeat them one day.
As the name suggests, lithium-ion batteries use lithium ions to store energy and normally they stay in solution or in one of the electrodes. Sometimes though, they will collect together to form solid structures called dendrites. As the dendrites grow, they may puncture the protective layer between the electrodes, causing a short circuit. Obviously this is a bad thing, which is why a lot of work has been done to protect against them, but the ORNL researchers are the first to directly image dendrites forming. To do this, they created an electrochemical cell to mimic the inside of a lithium-ion battery, applied a voltage, and had it under a scanning transmission electron microscope. The result was a series of images showing how the dendrites develop, at high resolution.
Typically studies concerning how a battery fails, wait until after the battery does, but this research and method allows researchers to watch the process unfold. This new approach could aid in the development of additives and new separators to prevent dendrites and preserve batteries better.

Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

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