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Charging makes nano-sized electrodes swell, elongate and spiral
Date:12/9/2010

RICHLAND, Wash. -- New high resolution images of electrode wires made from materials used in rechargeable lithium ion batteries shows them contorting as they become charged with electricity. The thin, nano-sized wires writhe and fatten as lithium ions flow in during charging, according to a paper in this week's issue of the journal Science. The work suggests how rechargeable batteries eventually give out and might offer insights for building better batteries.

Battery developers know that recharging and using lithium batteries over and over damages the electrode materials, but these images at nanometer scale offer a real-life glimpse into how. Thin wires of tin oxide, which serve as the negative electrode, fatten by a third and stretch twice as long due to lithium ions coursing in. In addition, the lithium ions change the tin oxide from a neatly arranged crystal to an amorphous glassy material.

"Nanowires of tin oxide were able to withstand the deformations associated with electrical flow better than bulk tin oxide, which is a brittle ceramic," said Chongmin Wang, a materials scientist at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "It reminds me of making a rope from steel -- you wind together thinner wires rather than making one thick rope."

In one of the videos, shown here <http://mt.seas.upenn.edu/Stuff/JianyuHuang/Upload/S1.mov>, the nanowire appears like a straw, while the lithium ions seem like a beverage being sucked up through it. Repeated shape changes could damage the electrode materials by introducing tiny defects that accumulate over time.

Chasing Electrons

In previous work at DOE's Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory on the PNNL campus, Wang, PNNL chemist Wu Xu and other colleagues succeeded in taking a snapshot of a larger nanowire of about one micrometer -- or one-hundredth the width of a
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Contact: Mary Beckman
mary.beckman@pnl.gov
509-375-3688
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert

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