Design and synthesis of Ni-rich and low/no-Co layered oxide cathodes for Li-ion batteries

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Virginia Tech


Li-ion batteries (LIBs) have achieved remarkable success in electric vehicles (EVs), consumer electronics, grid energy storage, and other applications thanks to a wide range of electrode materials that meet the performance requirements of different application scenarios. Cathodes are an essential component of LIBs, which governs the performance of commercial LIBs. Layered transition metal oxide, i.e., LiNixCoyMn1-x-yO2 (NMC), is one family of cathodes that are widely applied in the prevailing commercial LIBs. With increasing demand for high energy density, the development of layered oxide cathodes is towards high Ni content because Ni redox couples majorly contribute to the battery capacity. Meanwhile, the battery community has been making tremendous efforts to eliminate Co in layered cathodes due to its high cost, high toxicity, and child labor issues during Co mining. However, these Ni-rich Co-free cathodes usually suffer from low electrochemical and structural stability. Several strategies are adopted to enhance the stability of Ni-rich Co-free cathodes, such as doping, coating, and synthesizing single crystal particles. However, the design principles and synthesis mechanisms of these approaches have not been fully understood. Herein, we design and synthesize stable Ni-rich and low/no-Co layered oxide cathodes by manipulating the chemical and structural properties of cathode particles. Our studies reveal the cathode formation mechanisms and shed light on the cathode design through complementary synchrotron microscopic and spectroscopic characterization methods. In Chapter 1, the motivation for LIB research is introduced from the perspective of its indispensable role in achieving carbon neutrality. We then comprehensively introduce the status of LIBs at present, including assessing their sustainability, worldwide supply chain and manufacturing, and cathode materials. Subsequently, we focus on the Co-free layered oxide cathodes and discuss their structure, limitations, and strategies to address the challenges. Finally, we discuss single crystal Ni-rich layered oxide cathodes and the challenges and strategies associated with their synthesis. In Chapter 2, we investigate the dopant redistribution, phase propagation, and local chemical changes of layered oxides at multiple length scales using a multielement-doped LiNi0.96Mg0.02Ti0.02O2 (Mg/Ti-LNO) as a model platform. We observed that dopants Mg and Ti diffuse from the surface to the bulk of cathode particles below 300 °C long before the formation of any layered phase, using a range of synchrotron spectroscopic and imaging diagnostic tools. After calcination, Ti is still enriched at the cathode particle surface, while Mg has a relatively uniform distribution throughout cathode particles. Our findings provide experimental guidance for manipulating the dopant distribution upon cathode synthesis.
In Chapter 3, we synthesized Mn(OH)2-coated single crystal LiNiO2 (LNO) and used it as the platform to monitor the Mn redistribution and the structural and chemical evolution of the LNO cathode. We use in situ transmission X-ray microscopy (TXM) to track the Mn tomography inside the LNO particle and Ni oxidation state evolution at various temperatures below 700 °C. We further reveal chemical and structural changes induced by different extents of Mn diffusion at ensemble-averaged scale, which validates the results at the single particle scale. The ion diffusion behavior in the cathode is highly temperature dependent. Our study provides guidance for ion distribution manipulation during cathode modification. In Chapter 4, we successfully fabricated a surface passivation layer for NMC particles via a feasible quenching approach. A combination of bulk and surface structural characterization methods show the correlation of surface layer with bulk chemistry including valence state and charge distribution. Our design enables high interfacial stability and homogeneous charge distribution, impelling superior electrochemical performance of NMC cathode materials. This study provides insights into the cathode surface layer design for modifying other high-capacity cathodes in LIBs. In Chapter 5, we use statistical tools to identify the significance of multiple synthetic parameters in the molten salt synthesis of single crystal Ni-rich NMC cathodes. We also create a prediction model to forecast the performance of synthesized single crystal Ni-rich NMC cathodes from the input of synthetic parameters with relatively high prediction accuracy. Guided by the models, we synthesize single crystal LiNi0.9Co0.05Mn0.05O2 (SC-N90) with different particle sizes. We find large single crystals show worse capacity and cycle life than small single crystals especially at high current rates due to slower Li kinetics. However, large single crystal has higher thermal stability potentially because of smaller specific surface area. The findings of particle size effect on the performance provide insights into size engineering while developing next-generation single crystal Ni-rich NMC cathodes. The statistical and prediction models developed in this study can guide the molten salt synthesis of Ni rich cathodes and simplify the optimization process of synthetic parameters. Chapter 6 summarizes our efforts on the novel design and fundamental understanding of the state-of-the-art cathodes. We also provide our future perspectives for the development of LIBs.



Li-ion batteries, Ni-rich cathode, Co-free cathode, layered oxide, synchrotron characterizations, single crystal