Harnessing the Power of Lithium Metal Batteries

September 1, 2021

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), in collaboration with their partners in the US and Germany, envision a future of safe, high-performance rechargeable lithium-metal (Li-metal) batteries in a recent publication by Nature Reviews

Today’s rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries —the type commonly found in electric vehicles, laptops and other portable electronic devices— are reaching the theoretical limits of their energy-storing potential just as the need for next-generation battery power grows.

Rechargeable Li metal batteries can provide higher specific energy but they are currently limited by safety concerns and rapid performance loss. These issues are mainly related to reactions occurring at the Li metal–liquid electrolyte interface.

In the publication, researchers provide a comprehensive overview about the spontaneous and operation-induced reactions at the Li metal/electrolyte interface, taking different perspectives. They note that the instantaneous formation of a thin protective film of corrosion products at the Li surface that acts as a barrier to further chemical reactions with the electrolyte precedes the film reformation during subsequent electrochemical stripping/plating of Li in the course of battery operation. 

The stabilization of the resulting passive layer, that is, the realization of a suitable corrosion-protection film, is essential for the lifetime of the Li-metal battery. Gaining a deeper insight of the underlying mechanisms of the film formation, its fundamental function and operation principles is critical in this regard. 

“Corrosion and passivation are well known, naturally occurring phenomena for almost all metals, which enable their use in a variety of technologies and applications, e.g., ICs, civil infrastructures and batteries” said Robert Kostecki, the lead-author of the review and director of Berkeley Lab’s Energy Storage and Distributed Resources Division. “Does lithium corrosion and re-passivation in rechargeable batteries follow similar basic principles observed for other metals?  We need to understand it better to be able to build high-performance batteries ” 

Kostecki and other Berkeley Lab researchers continue to work at the interdisciplinary crux of electrolyte chemistry, corrosion science, and battery cell engineering to harness the potential of Li-metal batteries.