The development of high-resolution optical microscopies

This characterisation project is exploring the use of high-resolution optical microscopies for studying battery systems.

Building upon recent breakthroughs in characterisation methods developed for semiconducting materials, the project aims to provide a greater understanding of how electrode materials function at the single particle level and at shorter timescales than is currently available.

Understanding the mechanisms by which and the rates that lithium ions move in battery electrode materials is vital to developing high-rate battery materials with reduced capacity fade.

The team seeks to develop methods that can tackle crucial questions such as: how fast do the lithium-ions move, do electrodes transform via two or single-phase reactions, are electron and ion transport correlated, and what are the obstacles for transport caused by grain boundaries, defects, coatings? These world-leading methods will open a new window for the community to investigate these materials and provide the fundamental science underpinning the next generation of high-performance materials.

Project presentation from the Faraday Institution Conference, November 2021

Milestone/deliverables (September 2021)

  • Develop a generic and easy to implement microelectrochemical cell platform that provides access for super-resolution optical and nitrogen vacancy (NV) centre probes.
  • Develop and demonstrate high-speed hyper-spectral reflectance imaging to image lithiation of battery electrodes.
  • Develop and demonstrate time-resolved super-resolution interferometric light scattering microscopy as a tool to track ion diffusion within single particles in real time.
  • Demonstrate NVs as a local probe to track changes in magnetic properties within an electrode and develop tools to enable the use of NV centres in an operando optical cell.
  • Promote and disseminate the new techniques.

Project innovations

The project has developed a new technique – iScat – to observe ion dynamics in solid-state materials that can be used to study most battery materials. Observation of the movement of phase boundaries allows for improved mechanistic understanding of processes at high charge rates. The high throughput methodology allows many particles to be sampled across the electrode and, moving forward, will enable further exploration of what happens when batteries fail and how to prevent them from doing so. Potential commercialisation with an instrument supplier is under negotiation.

Project funding
1 July 2018- 30 September 2021
Principal Investigator
Dr Siân Dutton
University of Cambridge
University Partners
University of Cambridge


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