Theses Doctoral

Identification, Characterization, and Mitigation of the Performance Limiting Processes in Battery Electrodes

Knehr, Kevin William

Batteries are complex, multidisciplinary, electrochemical energy storage systems that are crucial for powering our society. During operation, all battery technologies suffer from voltage losses due to energetic penalties associated with the electrochemical processes (i.e., ohmic resistance, kinetic barriers, and mass transport limitations). A majority of the voltage losses can be attributed to processes occurring on/in the battery electrodes, which are responsible for facilitating the electrochemical reactions. A major challenge in the battery field is developing strategies to mitigate these losses. To accomplish this, researchers must i) identify the processes limiting the performance of the electrode, ii) characterize the main, performance-limiting processes to understand the underlying mechanisms responsible for the poor performance, and iii) mitigate the voltage losses by developing strategies which target these underlying mechanisms. In this thesis, three studies are presented which highlight the role of electrochemical engineers in alleviating the performance limiting processes in battery electrodes. Each study is focused on a different step of the research approach (i.e., identification, characterization, and mitigation) and analyzes an electrode from a different battery system.
The first part of the thesis is focused on identifying the processes limiting the capacity in nanocomposite lithium-magnetite electrodes. To accomplish this, the mass transport processes and phase changes occurring within magnetite electrodes during discharge and voltage recovery are investigated using a combined experimental and modeling approach. First, voltage recovery data are analyzed through a comparison of the mass transport time-constants associated with different length-scales in the electrode. The long voltage recovery times are hypothesized to result from the relaxation of concentration profiles on the mesoscale, which consists of the agglomerate and crystallite length-scales. The hypothesis was tested through the development of a multi-scale mathematical model. Using the model, experimental discharge and voltage recovery data are compared to three sets of simulations, which incorporate crystal-only, agglomerate-only, or multi-scale transport effects. The results of the study indicate that, depending on the crystal size, the low utilization of the active material (i.e., low capacity) is caused by transport limitations on the agglomerate and/or crystal length-scales. For electrodes composed of small crystals (6 and 8 nm diameters), it is concluded that the transport limitations in the agglomerate are primarily responsible for the long voltage recovery times and low utilization of the active material. In the electrodes composed of large crystals (32 nm diameter), the slow voltage recovery is attributed to transport limitations on both the agglomerate and crystal length-scales.
Next, the multi-scale model is further expanded to study the phase changes occurring in magnetite during lithiation and voltage recovery experiments. Phase changes are described using kinetic expressions based on the Avrami theory for nucleation and growth. Simulated results indicate that the slow, linear voltage change observed at long times during the voltage recovery experiments can be attributed to a slow phase change from α¬-LixFe3O4 to β¬-Li4Fe3O4. In addition, simulations for the lithiation of 6 and 32 nm Fe3O4 suggest the rate of conversion from α¬-LixFe3O4 to γ-(4 Li2O + 3 Fe) decreases with decreasing crystal size.
The next part of the thesis presents a study aimed at characterizing the formation of PbSO4 films on Pb in H2SO4, which has been previously identified as a performance-limiting process in lead-acid batteries. Transmission X-ray microscopy (TXM) is utilized to monitor, in real time, the initial formation, the resulting passivation, and the subsequent reduction of the PbSO4 film. It is concluded with support from quartz-crystal-microbalance experiments that the initial formation of PbSO4 crystals occurs as a result of acidic corrosion. Additionally, the film is shown to coalesce during the early stages of galvanostatic oxidation and to passivate as a result of morphological changes in the existing film. Finally, it is observed that the passivation process results in the formation of large PbSO4 crystals with low area-to-volume ratios, which are difficult to reduce under both galvanostatic and potentiostatic conditions.
In a further extension of this study, TXM and scanning electron microscopy are combined to investigate the effects of sodium lignosulfonate on the PbSO4 formation and the initial growth of PbSO4 crystals. Sodium lignosulfonate is shown to retard, on average, the growth of the PbSO4 crystals, yielding a film with smaller crystals and higher crystal densities. In addition, an analysis of the growth rates of individual, large crystals showed an initial rapid growth which declined as the PbSO4 surface coverage increased. It was concluded that the increase in PbSO4 provides additional sites for precipitation and reduces the precipitation rate on the existing crystals. Finally, the potential-time transient at the beginning of oxidation is suggested to result from the relaxation of a supersaturated solution and the development of a PbSO4 film with increasing resistance.
The final part of the thesis presents a study aimed at mitigating the ohmic losses during pulse-power discharge of a battery by the adding a second electrochemically active material to the electrode. Porous electrode theory is used to conduct case studies for when the addition of a second active material can improve the pulse-power performance. Case studies are conducted for the positive electrode of a sodium metal-halide battery and the graphite negative electrode of a lithium-ion battery. The replacement of a fraction of the nickel chloride capacity with iron chloride in a sodium metal-halide electrode and the replacement of a fraction of the graphite capacity with carbon black in a lithium-ion negative electrode were both predicted to increase the maximum pulse power by up to 40%. In general, whether or not a second electrochemically active material increases the pulse power depends on the relative importance of ohmic-to-charge transfer resistances within the porous structure, the capacity fraction of the second electrochemically active material, and the kinetic and thermodynamic parameters of the two active materials.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Chemical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
West, Alan C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 19, 2016