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In situ small angle X-ray scattering reveals solution phase discharge of Li-O2 batteries with weakly solvating electrolytes
preprintrevised on 20.10.2020, 13:03 and posted on 20.10.2020, 13:30 by Christian Prehal, Aleksej Samojlov, Manfred Nachtnebel, Manfred Kriechbaum, Heinz Amenitsch, Stefan Freunberger
Electrodepositing insulating and insoluble Li2O2 is the key process during discharge of aprotic Li-O2 batteries and determines rate, capacity, and reversibility. Current understanding states that the partition between surface adsorbed and dissolved LiO2 governs whether Li2O2 grows as a conformal surface film or larger particles, leading to low or high capacities, respectively. However, governing factors for Li2O2 packing density and capacity need better understanding, requiring in situ metrologies with structural sensitivity from the atomic to sub-micron scale. Here, we establish in situ small and wide angle X-ray scattering as a suitable method to record the Li2O2 phase evolution with atomic to sub-micrometer resolution during cycling a custom-built in situ Li-O2 cell. Combined with sophisticated data analysis, SAXS allows retrieving rich quantitative structural information from complex multi-phase systems. Surprisingly, we find that features are absent that would point at a Li2O2 surface film formed via two consecutive electron transfers, even in poorly solvating electrolytes thought to be prototypical for surface growth. All scattering data can be modeled by stacks of thin Li2O2 platelets eventually forming large toroidal particles. Higher discharge overpotentials (high currents) lead to smaller Li2O2 particles, but there is no transition to an electronically passivating, conformal Li2O2 coating. This implies that mass transport of reactive species rather than electronic transport through a Li2O2 film limits the discharge capacity. Provided that species mobilities and carbon surface areas are high, this allows for high discharge capacities even in poorly solvating electrolytes. The currently accepted Li-O2 reaction mechanism ought to be reconsidered.