Lithium degradation in lithium–sulfur batteries: insights into inventory depletion and interphasial evolution with cycling†
The promise of high energy density lithium–sulfur batteries with long cycle life is currently tempered by the rapid degradation of lithium-metal anodes with cycling. An in-depth understanding of the dynamical behavior in liquid electrolytes, including the mechanisms underlying depletion of lithium inventory and evolution of lithium interphases, is crucial to make Li–S batteries a reality. We use here an anode-free full cell configuration, pairing a Li2S cathode with a bare nickel current collector with no lithium metal on it, to quantitatively estimate the lithium inventory loss per cycle. Lithium inventory loss is shown to be the main factor limiting the overall cyclability of Li–S batteries. Time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry measurements on the deposited lithium reveal the presence of substantial metallic lithium even after most of the active lithium inventory has been depleted. The trapped metallic lithium is rendered electrochemically inactive by the growth of a resistive electrolyte decomposition interphase on the lithium surface. The bulk of the deposited lithium is shown to be composed of various fully reduced interphasial components, including several hydrogen-containing species that show a substantial reduction in intensity with cycling. This indicates considerable gas evolution and is also correlated with the loss of lithium inventory. The use of an anode-free full cell configuration provides a framework for accurate assessment of the dynamics of lithium inventory depletion and characterization of the accompanying interphasial evolution with cycling. The insights gained will prove invaluable to the development of strategies for extending the cycle life of energy-dense Li–S batteries.