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Tuning the Stability of Organic Active Materials for Nonaqueous Redox Flow Batteries via Reversible, Electrochemically Mediated Li+ Coordination

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journal contribution
posted on 24.03.2016, 00:00 by Emily V. Carino, Jakub Staszak-Jirkovsky, Rajeev S. Assary, Larry A. Curtiss, Nenad M. Markovic, Fikile R. Brushett
We describe an electrochemically mediated interaction between Li+ and a promising active material for nonaqueous redox flow batteries (RFBs), 1,2,3,4-tetrahydro-6,7-dimethoxy-1,1,4,4-tetramethylnaphthalene (TDT), and the impact of this structural interaction on material stability during voltammetric cycling. TDT could be an advantageous organic positive electrolyte material for nonaqueous RFBs due to its high oxidation potential, 4.21 V vs Li/Li+, and solubility of at least 1.0 M in select electrolytes. Although results from voltammetry suggest TDT displays Nernstian reversibility in many nonaqueous electrolyte solutions, bulk electrolysis reveals significant degradation in all electrolytes studied, the extent of which depends on the electrolyte solution composition. Results of subtractively normalized in situ Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (SNIFTIRS) confirm that TDT undergoes reversible structural changes during cyclic voltammetry in propylene carbonate and 1,2-dimethoxyethane solutions containing Li+ electrolytes, but irreversible degradation occurs when tetrabutylammonium (TBA+) replaces Li+ as the electrolyte cation in these solutions. By combining the results from SNIFTIRS experiments with calculations from density functional theory, solution-phase active species structure and potential-dependent interactions can be determined. We find that Li+ coordinates to the Lewis basic methoxy groups of neutral TDT and, upon electrochemical oxidation, this complex dissociates into the radical cation TDT•+ and Li+. The improved cycling stability in the presence of Li+ relative to TBA+ suggests that the structural interaction reported herein may be advantageous to the design of energy storage materials based on organic molecules.