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The Carbon Electrode in Nonaqueous Li–O2 Cells

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journal contribution
posted on 09.01.2013, 00:00 by Muhammed M. Ottakam Thotiyl, Stefan A. Freunberger, Zhangquan Peng, Peter G. Bruce
Carbon has been used widely as the basis of porous cathodes for nonaqueous Li–O2 cells. However, the stability of carbon and the effect of carbon on electrolyte decomposition in such cells are complex and depend on the hydrophobicity/hydrophilicity of the carbon surface. Analyzing carbon cathodes, cycled in Li–O2 cells between 2 and 4 V, using acid treatment and Fenton’s reagent, and combined with differential electrochemical mass spectrometry and FTIR, demonstrates the following: Carbon is relatively stable below 3.5 V (vs Li/Li+) on discharge or charge, especially so for hydrophobic carbon, but is unstable on charging above 3.5 V (in the presence of Li2O2), oxidatively decomposing to form Li2CO3. Direct chemical reaction with Li2O2 accounts for only a small proportion of the total carbon decomposition on cycling. Carbon promotes electrolyte decomposition during discharge and charge in a Li–O2 cell, giving rise to Li2CO3 and Li carboxylates (DMSO and tetraglyme electrolytes). The Li2CO3 and Li carboxylates present at the end of discharge and those that form on charge result in polarization on the subsequent charge. Li2CO3 (derived from carbon and from the electrolyte) as well as the Li carboxylates (derived from the electrolyte) decompose and form on charging. Oxidation of Li2CO3 on charging to 4 V is incomplete; Li2CO3 accumulates on cycling resulting in electrode passivation and capacity fading. Hydrophilic carbon is less stable and more catalytically active toward electrolyte decomposition than carbon with a hydrophobic surface. If the Li–O2 cell could be charged at or below 3.5 V, then carbon may be relatively stable, however, its ability to promote electrolyte decomposition, presenting problems for its use in a practical Li–O2 battery. The results emphasize that stable cycling of Li2O2 at the cathode in a Li–O2 cell depends on the synergy between electrolyte and electrode; the stability of the electrode and the electrolyte cannot be considered in isolation.

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