Using unique instruments and facilities, scientists are studying battery materials from the atomic level sizes up to 7 Ah pouch cells. Researchers are exploring the use of advanced materials such as high-voltage ceramic oxides and Si nanoparticles to improve the energy density of lithium-ion batteries. High-resolution microscopy, microstructural and magnetic characterization, high-resolution chemical mapping, 3-D surface profiling, and mechanical pinch testing capabilities enable in-depth investigation of new battery materials. Scientists also use advanced computational modeling to accelerate prototyping of cell designs, to screen new battery materials, to determine the effects of electrode coating defects on cell performance, and to develop accurate lifetime predictions.
Researchers are using infrared (IR) imaging to better understand temperature distribution inside lithium-ion batteries to prevent thermal runaway and increase user safety. In addition, IR thermography is being used to detect electrode coating defects such as pinholes, divots, blisters, uncoated areas, agglomerates, and metal contaminants. The porosity of electrodes can be measured on the production line using the IR emissivity of the electrode coatings and a thermal property model. These non-destructive evaluation technologies will greatly improve the quality of the battery electrodes, reduce scrap, and increase cell acceptance rates.
To ensure the battery manufacturing process has minimal environmental impact and to reduce costs, researchers are refining water-based coating technologies. This aqueous coating technology combined with doubling the electrode thickness substantially improves energy density, increasing driving range for electric vehicles.
Energy storage research at ORNL is ultimately focused on gathering and applying new knowledge to develop industrially viable technologies for large-scale battery manufacturing.