Cryo-electron microscopy makes high resolution image of dendrites possible


High energy batteries are reliable sources of energy, but they are quite fragile. This means that you can always expect them to reach high levels of heat, and sometimes even catch fire. Therefore, researchers decided to investigate the issue, and discover how they could make this type of batteries safer for all of us.

Researchers managed to develop an effective technology to study high energy batteries, and this same technique was offered the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 2017. It’s called cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), and allowed them to capture high-resolution images of some microscopic endings in the batteries called dendrites.

By looking at these dendrites, researchers hope to discover the cause of overheating. This way, they can find out what they need to change in the making of high energy batteries, and would be able to create safer devices which are no longer in danger of catching fire.

The technique was developed by scientists from the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory of the Department of Energy, and researchers from Stanford University. These were the first atomic images of dendrites produced. It was essential to know how they work, as they create links between each segment of the battery, and their malfunctioning causes high energy batteries to catch fire.

With the help of the technology, researchers could freeze batteries and remove any component they like, to see how they work. By taking snapshots of various stages of the dendrite life, they can put them all together and create a movie of their activity and the process they undertake.

Thanks to cryo-electron microscopy, researchers saw both the dendrites and the electrolyte coating which covered them. The technique was incredibly helpful as they could see how they looked like in their natural state, within the high energy batteries. When they are taken out, their properties are affected, so this might not be effective for finding out why the battery circuits are so sensitive.