Did You Know…

…that Microscopes Can Reveal a Battery’s Age?

Maris Saukans did it. He successfully completed the Dakar Rally in an electric car – reaching the finish line in Lima after traveling nearly 9,000 kilometers. The final ranking did not matter to the Latvian. The challenge was to complete the route with an electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries and to show how powerful these batteries can be. Up to now, these batteries have been used primarily in consumer electronics. To transform the batteries into a viable, efficient energy source for electric vehicles in the future, researchers are working on minimizing the aging process and signs of wear.

A battery’s capacity is usually verified using physical measuring methods. However, a different approach is being taken at the University of Aalen, where researchers are using microscopic techniques to examine lithium-ion batteries used in small electronic devices. With this type of image-based material analysis, it is possible for them to detect details of the structural design and grain. Changes in metal oxide, separators, and current collectors not only reveal a great deal about the service life, but can also provide clues as to what ultimately caused the rechargeable battery to fail.

ZEISS optical microscopes enable the resolution of these structures down to 100 nanometers, while electron microscopes permit even more detailed viewing. These two procedures are being combined in Aalen. The problem is relocating the specimen area under the electron microscope. That is why ZEISS has developed the "Shuttle & Find” procedure, which links light and electron microscopy via software and hardware interfaces, paving the way for a quick switchover from the microworld to the nanoworld.

25 January 2012