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The Nanostructure of Water-in-Salt Electrolytes Revisited: Effect of the Anion Size

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journal contribution
posted on 13.07.2021, 18:04 by Gabriela Horwitz, Eneli Härk, Paula Y. Steinberg, Leide P. Cavalcanti, Sebastian Risse, Horacio R. Corti
The increasing interest in developing safe and sustainable energy storage systems has led to the rapid rise in attention to superconcentrated electrolytes, commonly called water-in-salt (WiS). Several works indicate that the transport properties of these liquid electrolytes are related to the presence of nanodomains, but a detailed characterization of such structure is missing. Here, the structural nano-heterogeneity of lithium WiS electrolytes, comprising lithium trifluoromethane­sulfonate (LiTf) and bis­(trifluoromethanesulfonyl)­imide (LiTFSI) solutions as a function of concentration and temperature, was assessed by resorting to the analysis of small-angle neutron scattering (SANS) patterns. Variations with the concentration of a correlation peak, rather temperature-independent, in a Q range around 3.5–5 nm–1 indicate that these electrolytes are composed of nanometric water-rich channels percolating a 3D dispersing anion-rich network, with differences between Tf and TFSI anions related to their distinct volumes and interactions. Furthermore, a common trend was found for both systems’ morphology above a salt volume fraction of ∼0.5. These results imply that the determining factor in the formation of the nanostructure is the salt volume fraction (related to the anion size), rather than its molality. These findings may represent a paradigm shift for designing WiS electrolytes.