BER launches Environmental System Science Program. Visit our new website under construction!

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research

BER Research Highlights

How Balloon-shaped Lithium Oxide Reaction Products Form
Published: March 27, 2017
Posted: May 10, 2017

Insights into the reaction mechanism of lithium-oxygen batteries could lead to better batteries.

The Science
For the lithium-oxygen battery system, it is well recognized the charging and discharging reaction produces peculiar reaction product shapes that resemble doughnuts and balloons. Yet, how these shapes form has remained a mystery. A new study of a functioning nano-lithium-oxygen battery at atomic scale in an oxygen atmosphere provides clues.

The Impact
The discovery of the lithium-oxygen reaction pathway sets the foundation for quantitative modeling of electrochemical processes in the lithium-oxygen system, providing insight into how best to design lithium-oxygen batteries with high capacity and longer cycle life.

The lithium-oxygen battery system has been perceived as an enabling technology for the electromotive industry. However, progress in research and development of a lithium-oxygen battery has been severely hampered by two unanswered questions. First, what is the electrochemical reaction route when discharging and charging the battery? Second, what is the relationship between the complicated shapes of the reaction product and the reaction path? Answers to these two questions are fundamental, yet essential for development of the lithium-oxygen batteries.

To address this knowledge gap, a team of researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory; Tianjin Polytechnic University of China; and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), used advanced in-situ imaging techniques—the environmental transmission electron microscope—at EMSL, a Department of Energy Office of Science user facility, to observe a nano-lithium-oxygen battery during charging and discharging. They found oxygen reacts with lithium on carbon nanotubes to form a metastable lithium oxide. This oxide transforms into a more stable lithium oxide and releases oxygen gas that expands (inflates) particles into a hollow structure, producing doughnut and balloon shapes. This observation more generally demonstrates that the way the released oxygen is accommodated governs the formation of the complicated morphology of the reaction product in a lithium-oxygen battery. The results of this work not only answer the two questions outlined above, but also provide insight into ion and electron transport coupled with mass flow for the lithium-oxygen battery.

BER PM Contact
Paul Bayer, SC-23.1, 301-903-5324

PI Contact
Chongmin Wang
Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Office of Vehicle Technologies, and the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL), a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

Langli Luo, Bin Liu, Shidong Song, Wu Xu, Ji-Guang Zhang and Chongmin Wang, “Revealing the reaction mechanisms of Li-O2 batteries using environmental transmission electron microscopy.” Nature Nanotechnology (2017). DOI: 10.1038/NNANO.2017.27 (Reference link)

Related Links
EMSL News How Balloon-shaped Lithium Oxide Reaction Products Form

Topic Areas:

  • Research Area: DOE Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL)

Division: SC-33.1 Earth and Environmental Sciences Division, BER


BER supports basic research and scientific user facilities to advance DOE missions in energy and environment. More about BER

Recent Highlights

Mar 23, 2021
Molecular Connections from Plants to Fungi to Ants
Lipids transfer energy and serve as an inter-kingdom communication tool in leaf-cutter ants&rsqu [more...]

Mar 19, 2021
Microbes Use Ancient Metabolism to Cycle Phosphorus
Microbial cycling of phosphorus through reduction-oxidation reactions is older and more widespre [more...]

Feb 22, 2021
Warming Soil Means Stronger Microbe Networks
Soil warming leads to more complex, larger, and more connected networks of microbes in those soi [more...]

Jan 27, 2021
Labeling the Thale Cress Metabolites
New data pipeline identifies metabolites following heavy isotope labeling.

Analysis [more...]

Aug 31, 2020
Novel Bacterial Clade Reveals Origin of Form I Rubisco

  • All plant biomass is sourced from the carbon-fixing enzyme Rub [more...]

List all highlights (possible long download time)