Nature Nanotechnology, Vol.14, No.11, 1042-+, 2019
Origin of lithium whisker formation and growth under stress
Lithium metal has the lowest standard electrochemical redox potential and very high theoretical specific capacity, making it the ultimate anode material for rechargeable batteries. However, its application in batteries has been impeded by the formation of Li whiskers, which consume the electrolyte, deplete active Li and may lead to short-circuit of the battery. Tackling these issues successfully is dependent on acquiring sufficient understanding of the formation mechanisms and growth of Li whiskers under the mechanical constraints of a separator. Here, by coupling an atomic force microscopy cantilever into a solid open-cell set-up in environmental transmission electron microscopy, we directly capture the nucleation and growth behaviour of Li whiskers under elastic constraint. We show that Li deposition is initiated by a sluggish nucleation of a single crystalline Li particle, with no preferential growth directions. Remarkably, we find that retarded surface transport of Li plays a decisive role in the subsequent deposition morphology. We then explore the validity of these findings in practical cells using a series of carbonate-poisoned ether-based electrolytes. Finally, we show that Li whiskers can yield, buckle, kink or stop growing under certain elastic constraints.