Sandia Develops Paper-Thin Battery Health Detector To Be Embedded In Batteries

By Battery Power Online Staff

January 29, 2020 | A new paper-thin radio-frequency detector designed to work inside a lithium-ion battery provides information about the battery’s health while charging and discharging. The work, funded by Sandia’s Laboratory Directed Research and Development program, will help researchers better understand and characterize batteries to improve them for renewable storage and national security applications. Manufacturers also might use this one day to run diagnostic tests.

“It could enable researchers to check a battery’s function and capacity after years of storage without destroying it,” said Eric Sorte, a physicist at Sandia National Laboratories, who led the work.

As researchers work to improve the performance of lithium-ion batteries, they tweak a battery’s chemical components and cycle the system through many charges and discharges. Then they open the battery and examine the materials under a microscope to see how their structure and composition have changed.

But what if we could get that information by monitoring conditions inside a battery as it’s charging and discharging?

Researchers have checked the health of lithium-ion batteries with magnetic-resonance imaging in the past. The MRI machine sends a pulse of radio waves tailored to interact with a specific atomic nucleus in elements such as lithium, sulfur, or hydrogen. As a nucleus settles back to its original state, it gives off a signal that changes predictably depending on an atom’s surroundings. But this has only worked with modified battery components that don’t exist in working batteries.

This new detector, created by Sorte along with Sandia materials scientist Todd Alam and other colleagues, is designed to work in batteries as they are made for everyday use. It is thinner than a sheet of paper and can be made to fit inside a battery of any shape.

The researchers have already slipped it inside a commercially available battery. They imagine one day inserting the detector strip inside a battery during manufacturing, so it already contains the component needed for a quick health check.

Using this detector, Sorte and his colleagues can see unique signals for lithium ions as they interact with the material in each electrode. This enables them to track how much charge a battery holds throughout repeated charging and discharging cycles; declining capacity is a sign that a battery is dying.

The researchers can also see unique signals from molecules produced during side reactions as a battery operates. They can monitor these molecular side products and then tweak a battery’s chemical components to reduce undesirable reactions. These changes can help them improve batteries to have properties needed for applications such as large-scale renewable energy storage. Manufacturers also could use this device one day to run diagnostic tests on batteries, Sorte said.

The same approach and detector strip could be used to look at the inner workings of vanadium flow batteries and other chemistries too, he added. Sorte also is working on monitoring the inner life of a battery using the electrodes already there, so that no additional components are needed.