Nanostructured diatom earth SiO2 negative electrodes with superior electrochemical performance for lithium ion batteries
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is a naturally occurring silica source constituted by fossilized remains of diatoms, a type of hard-shelled algae, which exhibits a complex hierarchically nanostructured porous silica network. In this work, we analyze the positive effects of reducing DE SiO2 particles to the sub-micrometer level and implementing an optimized carbon coating treatment to obtain DE SiO2 anodes with superior electrochemical performance for Li-ion batteries. Pristine DE with an average particle size of 17 μm is able to deliver a specific capacity of 575 mA h g−1 after 100 cycles at a constant current of 100 mA g−1, and reducing the particle size to 470 nm enhanced the reversible specific capacity to 740 mA h g−1. Ball-milled DE particles were later subjected to a carbon coating treatment involving the thermal decomposition of a carbohydrate precursor at the surface of the particles. Coated ball-milled silica particles reached stable specific capacities of 840 mA h g−1 after 100 cycles and displayed significantly improved rate capability, with discharge specific capacities increasing from 220 mA h g−1 (uncoated ball-milled SiO2) to 450 mA h g−1 (carbon coated ball-milled SiO2) at 2 A g−1. In order to trigger SiO2 reactivity towards lithium, all samples were subjected to an electrochemical activation procedure prior to electrochemical testing. XRD measurements on the activated electrodes revealed that the initial crystalline silica was completely converted to amorphous phases with short range ordering, therefore evidencing the effective role of the activation procedure.