The Effect of Particle-Size Distribution on the Electrochemical Performance of a Red Phosphorus-Carbon Composite Anode for Sodium-Ion Batteries

Sodium-ion batteries will have an important role as a complement to lithium-ion in a future where lithium or cobalt, two critical elements for lithium-ion batteries, become scarce or prohibitively expensive. Red phosphorus (RP) is a promising candidate as an anode for sodium-ion batteries because of its low potential and high specific capacity. Its main disadvantage is its 490% volumetric expansion during sodiation. This leads to particle pulverization and substantial reduction of the cycle life. Furthermore, RP has an extremely low electronic conductivity of 10-14 S cm-1. Both issues have been previously addressed by ball milling RP with a carbon matrix. This decreases the RP particle size and also forms a more electronically conductive composite. However, it is challenging to determine the RP particle size independent of the size of the composite particles. Consequently, little is known about how much the RP particle size must be reduced to improve anode performance. Here we quantify the relationship between the RP particle-size distribution and its cycle life for the first time by separating the ball milling process into two steps. An initial wet ball milling is used to control the RP particle-size distribution, which is measured via dynamic light scattering. This is followed by a dry milling step to produce RP-graphite composites. We found that wet milling breaks apart the largest RP particles in the range of 2 to 10 µm decreases the Dv90 from 1.85 to 1.26 µm and significantly increases the cycle life of the RP. Furthermore, we determined that the length of time of the second milling step affects the uniformity of the carbon distribution in the composite. Photoelectron spectroscopy and transmission electron microscopy confirms the successful formation of a carbon coating, thus improving the performance of the resulting material. The RP with a Dv90 of 0.79 µm mixed with graphite for 48h delivered 1,354 mA h g-1 with high coulombic efficiency (>99%) and cyclability (88% capacity retention after 100 cycles). These results are an important step in the development of cyclable, high-capacity anodes for sodium-ion batteries.