Energy Materials

Power Generation and Energy Solutions

Power Plants

Coal is one of the most abundant fossil fuels on the planet and is a key material in power generation. The quality of the coal used is of primary importance. Prior knowledge of the ash yield of coal provides vital information for improving processes. The blend and purity of coal used directly impacts on the efficiency of a power plant and the volume of fly ash produced. SmartPI for your scanning electron microscope performs the characterisation, classification and quantification of mineral matter. With the Coal plug-in of SmartPI, data is reported to assist with controlling combustion variables, thus helping to minimise slagging and fouling whilst improving plant efficiency.

Thin Film Photovoltaic Solar Cells

An in-depth understanding of the systematic interaction of microstructures, compositions and electronic properties is critical in improving solar cell technology. The AURIGA Crossbeam combines a high-resolution scanning electron microscope (SEM) with a focused Ga-ion beam (FIB) and a gas injection system (GIS) to deliver the maximum, nanoscopic, information from your sample. In addition, the combination of EDS elemental analysis with FIB serial sectioning provides information on the 3D elemental composition of a sample at sub-micron resolution. Furthermore, the Orion Plus helium ion microscope (HIM) is capable of imaging insulating samples which makes imaging both the conductive aluminum coating and the details of the glass surface possible with images rich in contrast.

Crystalline Silicon Solar Cells

The most prevalent bulk material for solar cells is crystalline silicon. Bulk silicon is separated into multiple categories according to crystallinity and crystal size in the resulting ingot, ribbon or wafer. Three main categories for crystalline silicon solar cells can be distinguished: Monocrystalline, Poly-/multicrystalline and Ribbon silicon. General defect analysis of relatively large defects can typically be accomplished using a Stereo, Zoom or an upright compound microscope such as an Axio Scope or an Axio Imager. The analysis itself is normally performed in reflected light either with brightfield, darkfield or DIC, depending on the type of defect to be analysed. Surface morphology can be further assessed with Axio LSM 700.

Batteries, Fuel Cells and other Energy Solutions

The development of efficient storage technologies, such as Li-ion batteries, for electrical energy plays an important role in the progress of electromobility. The performance of a Li-ion battery is determined by its energy density, battery power and capacity, charge and discharge rates as well as lifetime. Defect identification of Li-ion batteries is made possible by light microscopy (LM) and microstructure characterization is made possible by electron microscopy. The potential of information to be obtained from each technique is equally valuable so correlative microscopy becomes essential. Correlative microscopy makes it possible to analyse relations between cell design and battery performance. Shuttle and Find is the tool used to correlate the results between each instrument from Carl Zeiss.

Battery Research

LIBs have a higher specific energy compared to the wide-spread lead-acid batteries. This made Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) today’s most powerful energy storage devices, commonly used in portable electronic devices, stationary power sources, and electric vehicles. Many of today’s advanced researchers are working to extend the cycle life time of the cells in order to make more efficient use of current- and future-generation technologies, while ensuring safety of operation for the end users. Much of this battery research is furthered through the use of flexible, high-resolution inspection equipment, such as light microscopes, electron microscopes, and X-ray microscopes. ZEISS offers all these microscopic techniques that span over a multi-scale, multi-modal range. Make the most of ZEISS microscopes for dedicated investigations on all components of LIBs.


During lithiation and delithiation, cathodes suffer from strain and stress. This leads to grain cracking, pore size changes, and contact loss of particles, all of which can decrease the cycle lifetime of the battery and reduce its operational safety. In addition, layer formation around particles can cause an increase in impedance. Analyze these with ZEISS light-, electron-, and x-ray microscopes. ZEISS Axio Zoom.V16 delivers fast, flexible, and high-resolution overview images across large specimen areas, enabling grain size distributions to be quantified in 2D. Extend these capabilities non-destructively to 3D with ZEISS Xradia Versa X-ray microscopes, produce models of the battery particle and pore geometries without the need to section the specimens. Additionally, produce high-resolution 3D information in the sub-surface regime using a focused ion beam SEM like ZEISS Crossbeam 550 with Atlas 5.

Battery Separator

Battery separators are polymeric membranes, critical for ensuring safe and efficient operation of the cells. During cycling, the separator may change its molecular direction, e.g. from uniaxial to biaxial, and any defects forming as a result may lead to short circuits. ZEISS recommends the field emission scanning electron microscope (FE-SEM) GeminiSEM 500: Due to its high resolution capabilities at low landing energies (e.g. 500 V) as well as NanoVP, a dedicated mode for imaging at higher pressures, less charging occurs and you can acquire crisp images even for sensitive, non-conductive samples GeminiSEM 500 is ideal for the analysis of this polymeric material. In addition, the integrated Raman system is the perfect tool for the differentiation between different types of polymers. The ZEISS X-ray microscope Xradia Ultra further offers the unique capability to visualize the membrane porosity in 3D, providing reliable input for ionic transport models across the separator.


Anodes are subject to similar failure modes as cathodes, but their key differences lie in composition: namely, the anode is typically made of graphite, in some cases complemented by tin or silicon. Any cracks or defects within the graphite particles lead to deviant ionic transport pathways, which, similar to the cathode layer, may reduce the overall cycle life characteristics of the cell. ZEISS Axio Imager 2 with its high resolving power makes it the ideal choice for crack analysis, providing quick access to the small defects. During the first charge and discharge cycle, an SEI (solid electrolyte interphase) is formed on the surface of the particles, which is widely believed to influence the cycle life characteristics of the battery. Profit from the low voltage, high resolution capabilities of ZEISS GeminiSEM 500 with an integrated Raman system to image cracks, SEI and graphite, and complementary analyze both the defect formation and chemical changes associated with aging. ZEISS Xradia Versa and Ultra both extend these visualization capabilities to 3D, revealing the pore and particle changes occurring over time.

Battery Binder

The binder within a Li-ion battery serves the unique dual purpose of holding the particles in place while facilitating ionic transport. Materials used as binders are typically polymeric (e.g., PvDF or CMC) and are notoriously difficult to image. Take advantage of ZEISS GeminiSEM 500: its high resolution performance especially at low voltages in combination with Raman spectroscopy visualize the homogeneity of the binder. These instruments working together produce a powerful imaging and analytical framework for binder characterization.

Air exposure

One of the main challenges during battery research is the transfer from the glove box to the measurement equipment because air, in particular oxygen and hydrogen exposure change the properties of the battery very quickly. The Sample Transfer Shuttle for ZEISS FE-SEMs mitigates this problem by avoiding air exposure. Transfer your sample easily and safely in vacuum or in an inert atmosphere.