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Cathode-Electrolyte Interphase in Lithium Batteries Revealed by Cryogenic Electron Microscopy


Cathode electrolyte interphase (CEI), the intimate coating layer formed on the positive electrode, has been thought to be critical. However, many aspects of CEI remain unclear. This originates from the lack of effective tools to characterize structural and chemical properties of these sensitive interphases at nanoscale. Here, we develop a protocol to preserve the native state and directly visualize the interface on the positive electrode using cryogenic electron microscopy. We find that under normal operation conditions, there does not exist an intimate coating layer at the single-particle level in carbonate-based electrolyte. However, upon brief external electrical shorting, a solid-electrolyte interphase, which usually forms on anodes, could form on cathodes and be electrochemically converted into a stable, conformal CEI in situ. The conformal CEI helps improve Coulombic efficiency and overall capacity retention of the battery. This generates a different perspective of CEI in commercial carbonate-based electrolytes than previously understood.