2 Anode Interfaces &
2.2 Interface phenomena
2.2.4 SEI formation
SEI formation occurs in systems with liquid electrolytes as well as in systems with solid electrolytes. In both systems, the formation of reaction layers can have a strong influence on the properties of the interface, especially in batteries, where the crossing of the interface is a process that must be carried out. However, although the same phenomenon occurs in both systems, there are a few very important differences that in consequence strongly influence the battery performance.
i) SEI formation in systems with liquid electrolytes
First findings of the SEI were reported in the late 1970s . The SEI is an interphase that forms on the lithium metal anode in contact with liquid electrolytes at potentials below 1.0 V vs. Li+/Li. Liquid electrolytes which consist of one or more organic solvents and a lithium–
containing conducting additive decompose in contact with lithium and form an interlayer with a typical thickness of around 20 nm –. Although this phenomenon has been known for many years, it is not fully understood and questions regarding the formation, composition and properties of this interphase have yet to be answered. Though there is much to learn, it is known that the composition of the electrolyte solution influences the formation and composition of the SEI and therefore the properties of the battery .
There are several mechanisms to describe the formation of the SEI between lithium metal and a liquid electrolyte , . Over time, they have become more and more detailed.
These models all involve the reaction of lithium with at least one of the components in the electrolyte solution and the formation of a solid layer on the lithium anode.
The main components of the SEI are lithium compounds like Li2S, LiOH, LiF, and Li2O3, and organic species like ROLi, RCOOLi and various others (R = alcyl group), depending on the applied liquid electrolyte , . The lithium species are usually located on the inner surface of the SEI (close to the lithium anode) whereas the organic species can be found on the outer surface (close to the electrolyte) –. Determining the exact properties of the SEI is rather difficult as the composition and thickness vary largely; so only average parameters are determined from observations .
In combination with liquid electrolytes, the SEI formation is advantageous because it enables a stable cycling behavior by passivating the anode surface and therefore preventing further decomposition of the electrolyte. In batteries with graphite anodes, during the first charge of the battery, the electrolyte is reduced at the graphite surface by forming an SEI, which prevents further decomposition . Other parasitic reactions such as co–intercalation and exfoliation of graphite layers can also effectively be suppressed .
However, if the SEI is not a dense layer, dendrite formation and decomposition of the electrolyte can still occur. In systems where a large volume change of the electrode occurs
during charging and discharging, the SEI can burst, which may lead to further decomposition along the cracks.
The composition and morphology of the SEI in batteries with liquid electrolyte strongly depends on the composition of the electrolyte solution. Different conductive salts, solvents and additive combinations significantly influence the reaction products and thus the composition of the SEI. It can govern the formation of dense, solid, porous or spongy interlayers, and influence the ionic and electronic conductivities of the SEI. A detailed description of the SEI composition and morphology is given in literature , .
Usually, the formation of an SEI can be used to stabilize the cycling behavior of a lithium–
ion battery. However, the SEI formation is a parasitic process that includes more than just the desired reaction products of the electrolyte additives. If phenomena like inhomogeneous lithium plating or dendrite formation occur and a fresh lithium surface is exposed to the liquid electrolyte, an interface layer forms again, consuming active material and lowering the cell performance. Other undesired components can become a part of the SEI as well, such as when interactions between the cathode material and the anode material cause SEI growth with unfavorable properties. During cycling, transition metal ions like manganese on the cathode side are reduced and become soluble in the electrolyte, especially when the electrolyte contains HF . When they are transported to the anode side, these ions can be incorporated into the SEI . This behavior influences the cell performance as well as the role of the SEI on the anode side. A more prominent example of such “parasitic” SEI components is the polysulfide shuttle in lithium–sulfur batteries. During discharge of the battery, the sulfur on the cathode side will be reduced from S8 to form Li2S. This reaction occurs in two steps, which form intermediate products Li2Sn (4 < n < 8). These polysulfide species are soluble in the electrolyte and can be transported to the anode side, where they can form an SEI layer. The reaction not only consumes active cathode material but also leads to capacity fading and short cycle life , . A more detailed insight on the shuttle–effect of lithium–sulfur batteries is given in literature .
SEI formation in batteries with liquid electrolytes can be used to tailor the cell properties if suitable electrolyte additives are used and parasitic reactions with the cathode side are prohibited (e.g. ). The mechanisms of SEI formation in solid electrolytes differ from those in liquid systems.
ii) SEI formation in systems with solid electrolytes
In contrast to batteries with liquid electrolytes, where the SEI is needed to enable a stable cycling behavior, in batteries with solid electrolytes the SEI it is often problematic. Wenzel et al. have shown that there are three different types of interfaces between lithium metal and solid electrolytes: stable interfaces, unstable interfaces and metastable interfaces . Which type of interface exists between electrolyte and electrode, depends on the nature of these two phases. When there is a thermodynamically stable two–dimensional interface, the electrolyte does not react in contact with the anode material. It must be noted that because of the high reactivity of lithium, this case only occurs on very rare occasions (e.g. the binary lithium compounds ). Most materials form either a metastable or an unstable interface.
Figure 3: Formation and properties of the SE in batteries with liquid electrolyte (exemplary LiPF6 in EC). The SEI can grow in both directions as lithium ions, counter ions and solvent molecules are mobile in the liquid electrolyte. The SEI forms a stable layer that blocks the motion of electrons and solvents. The SEI often is a porous layer and parts of it can break off and float in the electrolyte. If cracks appear due to heavy changes of the lattice parameter of the anode during cycling or due to dissolution of lithium metal, anode and electrolyte can further react to close the gaps.
The second type of interface is the mixed conducting interface (MCI) or mixed ionically and electronically conducting interface (MIEC). At this interface, a reaction between lithium and the electrolyte takes place, leading to a mixed–conducting phase, as the reaction products conduct electrons as well as ions. This is especially the case when transition metals are involved, which upon reduction to neutral metal atoms form a percolating network for electrons (e.g. in LGPS ). This can also occur at the cathode side of an all–solid–state battery, where carbon is added as an electron–conducting additive that also promotes the decomposition of the electrolyte . If both conductivities are in the same order of magnitude, the reaction can spread out over the entire electrolyte given enough lithium is provided. In this case a two–dimensional interface becomes a three–dimensional interphase and the interphase formation can lead to short–circuiting of the cell .
The third type of interface is the meta–stable interface. It also forms a three–dimensional interphase. Similar to an MCI, there is an initial reaction between the two adjacent phases, e.g. lithium and the electrolyte. The difference is that the reaction products only conduct one charged species. In the case of a lithium battery, the interface is ionically conducting but does not conduct electrons. For a redox reaction both charge carriers are necessary, if the reaction is to continue. The meta–stable interface results in the formation of a stable SEI.
The formation of an SEI as well as an MCI has a thermodynamic driving force. The difference is the electronic conductivity, which limits the interfacial reaction. Studies on the interfaces between lithium metal and solid electrolytes are quite rare, particularly studies on the thermodynamic and kinetic stability of electrolytes in contact with lithium metal. The studies that do exist report the phenomenological stability or instability of electrolytes but only few give reasonable explanations based on fundamental thermodynamics.
Zhu et al. have made First Principles Calculations on the thermodynamic stability of solid electrolytes in contact with electrode materials , . Their purpose was to explain the stability of electrolytes like „LiPON“, which had been mentioned in a previous publication by Schwöbel et al. . In contact with lithium metal this electrolyte decomposes by forming Li3N, Li3P and Li2O in varying amounts depending on the stoichiometry of the electrolyte.
The decomposition happens because the anode potential is not within the thermodynamic stability window of the electrolyte. The stability window is often explained as the difference between the highest unoccupied molecular orbital (HOMO; or valence band edge, from a
semiconductor physicist’s point of view) and the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO; conduction band edge) of the electrolyte from which an electron can be extracted or into which an electron can be inserted . However, this model neglects that fact that for the electrolyte reduction not only electrons need to be transferred to the interface between lithium and the electrolyte but also Li+ ions are needed. So even if the stability window is not big enough, a reaction does not necessarily have to take place.
Bron et al. have examined the conduction behavior of different sulfide superionic conductors in contact with Li by using impedance spectroscopy . They brought the sulfur–based solid electrolytes Li10Si0.3Sn0.7P2S12 (LSnPS), Li10GeP2S12 (LGPS), Li10SiP2S12 (LSiPS), and 95 (0.8 Li2S · 0.2 P2S5) 5 LiI (LPSI) in contact with a lithium metal foil and performed time dependent impedance measurements. Their experiments showed that three out of four electrolytes were unstable in contact with lithium metal and formed a mixed conducting interphase (MCI). Only the LPSI electrolyte did not show a significant change of the impedance over time. They suggested that this happened due to the formation of a stable SEI. The SEI was ionically conducting but electronically insulating. Thus, the decomposition reaction was self–limiting.
According to the considerations of ,  and the experimental results of  and , LSnPS, LGPS and LSiPS contain transition metal ions that will be reduced to their metallic state and induce an electronic conductivity. In contrast to these materials, LPSI does not contain transition metal ions. By reacting with lithium metal, binary lithium compounds like Li2S, Li3P and LiI will most likely be formed. These binary compounds often have a negligible electronic conductivity  and thus prevent the electrolyte from further decomposition. As they often also have a low ionic conductivity, they will cause an increase of the interfacial resistance if the interphase reaches a critical thickness. Determining the thickness of an SEI or MCI is challenging, as the surface is buried beneath the electrode. The thickness also depends on the reaction time, the lithium diffusion coefficient and the amount of lithium in the system. If the reaction time is long enough and enough lithium is present in the system, the whole electrolyte might decompose. Wenzel et al. determined the thickness of their interphases to be between 2 nm and 20 nm, whereas Bron et al. obtained values of a few micrometers . But as they only estimated a value of the permittivity εr, their results can be inaccurate. Regardless, an MCI will be thicker than an SEI as the growth mechanism of the MCI is not self–limiting. To obtain a stable interface for an unstable electrolyte, the
interface must be tailored in a fashion that only ionically conducting species are present, which do not decompose when in contact with lithium.
iii) Comparison of the SEI formation with solid and liquid electrolyte
Figure 3 & 4 show the schematic interphase formation in batteries with liquid and with solid electrolytes. They depict the case of lithium metal anodes, but the considerations are valid for batteries with other anode materials as well.
The biggest difference in the interphase formation between systems with liquid or solid electrolyte is the growth direction of the interphase. The SEI formation in systems with liquid electrolytes is schematically depicted in Figure 3. LiPF6 in ethylene carbonate (EC) is chosen as the electrolyte. Typical transference numbers of lithium ions in liquid electrolyte are < 1 because in liquid systems, anions, cations and the electrolyte molecules are mobile. Each of these species getting in contact with the lithium|electrolyte interface can contribute to the SEI formation, which can occur at the lithium|SEI interface as well as at the SEI|electrolyte interface. The SEI can grow into the electrolyte as well as into the lithium anode. Due to an unspecified decomposition of electrolyte compounds, the SEI has a complex and often porous structure. If cracks appear due to severe changes of lattice parameters of the anode Figure 4: In a solid–state battery, only lithium ions are mobile in the electrolyte. Oxygen anions and other cations are bound in the rigid electrolyte framework. Thus, the SEI can only grow from the anode side into the electrolyte. Depending on the transference number of electrons in the newly formed SEI, the growth might proceed through the electrolyte or stop after forming an insulating layer.
material during charging/discharging, further decomposition of the electrolyte and a reformation of the SEI can occur. Furthermore, parts of the SEI might break off and become mobile in the electrolyte. Many detailed studies of the interface formation, based on experimental results as well as theoretical calculations, are given in the literature –.
Figure 4 shows the SEI formation in a system with a solid electrolyte. In systems with solid electrolytes, only lithium ions are mobile with a transference number close to unity. All the counter ions are bound in a rigid framework. The slight deviations from 𝑡Li+ = 1 origin from electronic partial conductivity and due to defect formation and migration in the solid electrolyte on a short range. The growth direction of the SEI is determined by the direction of migration of the lithium ions, as the mobility of the other ions can be neglected at typical operation temperatures of batteries . Most often, the SEI is formed at the lithium surface and grows into the electrolyte, depicted by the color shading of the electrolyte particles in Figure 4.Even if reaction products in solid–state batteries did not induce a partial electronic conductivity in the cell, the instability of the electrolytes against lithium metal remained a problem: Reaction products in all–solid–state batteries are fixed locally at the interface between lithium and the electrolyte and cannot be removed. Even small amounts of these products can have a large influence on the transport properties of the cell if the conductivity of the interphase differs significantly from the conductivity of the electrolyte. The prevention of the aforementioned interface phenomena, especially SEI formation, is very important for the construction of reliable ASSBs. One way to influence the properties of an interface in batteries is the application of an additional interlayer. The following chapter summarizes various attempts to modify the interface, which are known from literature.