The Molecular Scale Structure of Electrolyte-Metal Oxide Interface

Li-ion batteries (LIBs) are key components of portable electronic devices, as well as in electric vehicles, military and medical equipment, backup power supplies, and even grid storage. However, the energy storage capacity and rate capability of current LIBs is still too low to meet the increasing demand of key markets. For the latter, the properties of the electrolyte-electrode interface play a decisive role.

From a more general point of view, interfaces, or surfaces, are the outer boundary of any condensed matter. Due to the resulting symmetry breaking, the arrangement of atoms or molecules at the interface often varies significantly from that in the bulk. Studies of the molecular scale structural properties of liquids at interfaces are intriguing, as these give insights into the fundamental molecule–molecule and molecule–substrate interactions. Investigations have included layering of ionic liquids [1], layering of metallic [2] and non-metallic liquids [3], and the (potential-dependent) structure of water adsorbed on solid surfaces [4]. However, basic insights into how a non-aqueous electrolyte–salt solution organizes at a solid interface, in particular from experiments, is still missing [5]. In many technological applications, the atomic scale properties of interfaces govern the functionality of the system. A prominent example is the importance of the structure and molecular arrangement of the liquid at the functional solid–liquid interface in batteries. More specifi­cally, in LIBs, the arrangement of the electrolyte molecules directly at the electrode interface, and the electric double layer (EDL) formation are expected to govern the interfacial ion transport during charge/discharge, as well as affect the origin and properties of the solid electrolyte interphase (SEI).

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Image: (a) Fresnel-normalized XRR (symbols) of the sapphire/LiPF6:EC:DMC and corresponding model fits (lines). (b) Fit-derived electron density profiles. (c) Comparison of the XRR- and MD-derived (blue) density profiles. The MD-derived profile is smeared by the XRR-derived roughness. All curves are spaced vertically for clarity. (d) Periodicity at the solid/liquid interface vs. LiPF6 concentration. (e) Normalized correlation lengths. (f) Schematic illustration of the proposed origin induced increased layer spacing with increasing salt-concentration.