Battery research with synchrotron radiation


Electrochemical energy storage

The topic of energy is more explosive and topical than ever. There is now no doubt that electricity must come from renewable and sustainable sources in the long term. For this energy transition, the intermediate storage of energy is crucial, as electricity from wind and sun cannot be generated continuously. In contrast to other energy storage systems, batteries achieve particularly high levels of efficiency. More precisely, battery research investigates and further develops accumulators, i.e. rechargeable electrochemical energy storage devices. How a such a rechargeable battery works is explained, for example, on the website of the POLiS Cluster of Excellence (Post Lithium Storage).

Research goals

Battery properties such as charge density, service life, fast charging, safety and sustainability (recycling & use of more environmentally friendly materials) can only be improved in a targeted manner if we understand in detail what happens inside a battery. This is where synchrotron radiation helps, an extremely intense radiation up to the X-ray range that can be used to investigate processes inside a battery and even track them while the battery is in operation. There are various types of batteries on the market that are suitable for a wide range of applications.  Apart from the design, they differ mainly in the so-called active material, but almost all of them are based on the concept of the lithium-ion battery developed by Whittingham, Goodenough and Yoshino, because these have a high energy density and a long service life. Optimising and further developing this established technology, but also completely rethinking it, are the approaches of battery research, for which synchrotron radiation is also used. The use of synchrotron radiation shows its particular strength in the investigation of new types of batteries that do without the limited availability of expensive lithium and are instead based on sodium, potassium or aluminium, for example. The promising solid-state battery, which should make it possible to bring safer, lighter and more energy-efficient batteries onto the market in the future, is also being intensively studied using synchrotron radiation.

Battery types

From the acid-lead car battery to the solid state cell - battery types are diverse. Particularly widespread battery types are the Li-ion battery, Li-sulphur battery and the redox flow battery. A descriptive overview of these and others is provided by the battery quartet of the FZ Jülich (as of 2014), the information portal of the "Battery Forum Germany" and the BMWK website on the "Battery cell production". Those who want to delve even deeper into the subject can listen to the episodes of the "Geladen" battery podcast or read them in the transcript.

Battery research in Germany

As simple as the basic principle of electrochemical energy storage is, the processes taking place inside are complex and the demands on the battery of the future are almost endless. This is why the BMBF has been intensively supporting battery research in Germany since 2007, see the brochure on the umbrella concept "Research Factory Battery". The measures aim, among other things, to increase the number, quality and equipment of electrochemical competence centres. Furthermore, battery systems of the future are also supported by promoting technologies of the so-called "post-lithium-ion era". Another focus is the transfer of results from research to a scale suitable for industry and ultimately to industrial application. So far, the "Battery Research Factory" has the competence clusters ProZell, FestBatt, ExcellBattMat, InZePro, greenBatt, BattNutzung, TUM.Battery and AQua, as well as the Bayrische Zentrum für Batterietechnik BayBatt.

German research institutes focusing on battery research are the Helmholtz Institute Münster (HI MS) and the Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU), see BMBF website. Also important are the MEET Battery Research Centre at the University of Münster and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), where both basic research and battery production are carried out.

The research platform CELEST (Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage Ulm & Karlsruhe) was founded in 2018 by the partners KIT, the University of Ulm and the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) for strategic cooperation and is one of the largest activities in battery research internationally. In the POLiS cluster of excellence, KIT, the University of Ulm, ZSW and the University of Giessen are working together to research future batteries that do not require lithium and are based on sustainable battery materials.

The Kompetenznetzwerk Lithium-Ionen-Batterien e. V. (KLiB) offers a project database on the website of the "Batterieforum Deutschland" on publicly funded projects in Germany that deal with rechargeable electrochemical energy storage (secondary batteries).

At the European level, in the large scale research initiative Battery 2030+, there is the EU project "BIG-MAP" (Battery Interface Genome - Materials Acceleration Platform) for the development of sustainable batteries for the future, in which the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) is involved. Battery research is also being advanced there in the "Grenoble Battery Hub".

Synchrotron radiation in Germany

Synchrotron radiation sources are large-scale research facilities such as storage rings or free-electron lasers in which charged particles accelerated to almost the speed of light emit photons, intense light (synchrotron radiation). At these large-scale research facilities, research on batteries is carried out both by in-house scientists and by external scientists from all over Germany, Europe and the world who use synchrotron radiation sources for their research - also in companies that develop batteries:

"The demands on electricity storage systems are constantly growing. We assume today that we will see many improvements and new developments in the next ten years. This is exactly where our research at the synchrotron comes in, because it helps us to investigate and completely understand the processes in our battery cells. In addition, we value the cooperation with experts at research institutions and universities." Dr. Daniela Werlich - CUSTOMCELLS® CTO

Examples from research

Battery research with synchrotron radiation ranges from basic research to the investigation of commercially available batteries in operation. The questions are wide-ranging, as are the different methodological approaches. Therefore, we can only pick out a selection of examples. Below you will find a chronological list of articles, most of which are press releases from the synchrotron radiation centres in Germany or with German participation.

Batteries without critical raw materials. HU Berlin / HZB, 26 October 2022

New at HZB: Tomography lab for AI-assisted battery research. HZB, 10 October 2022

Improving the production of batteries for electric vehicles. BASF / ALBA, 07 September 2022

Lithium-Sulfur batteries: First multimodal analysis in pouch cell format. HZB / TU Dresden, Fraunhofer-IWS, 21 February 2022

Battery Research: First Fully Automatic Laboratory Starts Operation. KIT / HIU, Univ. Ulm, 10 February 2022

FestBatt: The Next Step in Solid-state Batteries. KIT et al., 04 January 2022

Launch of the Grenoble Battery Hub. ESRF/ ILL, CEA, 24 November 2021

The role of structural defects in commercial lithium-ion batteries. Cell Reports Physical Science, 22 September 2021

On the trail of lithium dendrites: How destructive formations develop in batteries. HZB, 01 September 2021

Warum altern Lithium-Schwefel-Batterien noch zu schnell? PTB / HZB, IPF, 24 June 2021

Direct observation of the ad- and desorption of guest atoms into a mesoporous host. HZB / PTB, Univ. Hamburg, 21 April 2021

Sustainable and Safe Batteries: Lifecycle Research. KIT et al., 21 January 2021

User research at BESSY II: Graphite electrodes for rechargeable batteries investigated. HZB / TU Berlin, IZM, 20 November 2020

Order in the disorder: density fluctuations in amorphous silicon discovered. HZB / HU Berlin, FU Berlin et al., 29 October 2020

Eine Batterie-Komponente verändert das Gesamtsystem, energiezukunft / KIT, 28.10.2020

Hope for better batteries – researchers follow the charging and discharging of silicon electrodes live. HZB / HU Berlin, 29 July 2020

Anode Material for Safe Batteries with a Long Cycle Life. KIT, 28 July 2020

BESSY II: Experiment shows for the first time in detail how electrolytes become metallic. HZB / FHI, 05 June 2020

Fast and furious: New class of 2D materials stores electrical energy. HZB, 02 March 2020

Spatially quantifying crystallographic heterogeneities in operating Li-ion electrodes. ESRF, 21 February 2020

Battery research: Using neutrons and X-rays to analyse the ageing of lithium batteries. HZB / TU Berlin, ZIB et al., 07 February 2020

Donal Finegan wins the Young Scientist Award for his innovative research on lithium-ion battery failure and degradation. ESRF, 04 February 2020

Up to 30 Percent more Capacity for Lithium-ion Batteries. KIT, 05 December 2019

Spatially resolving the state of charge in Li-ion electrodes. ESRF, 18 July 2019

Degradation of silicon-based anodes for lithium-ion batteries followed by in situ X-ray tomography. ESRF, 21 May 2019