Nano-chemo-mechanics of advanced materials for hydrogen storage and lithium battery applications
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Chemo-mechanics studies the material behavior and phenomena at the interface of mechanics and chemistry. Material failures due to coupled chemo-mechanical effects are serious roadblocks in the development of renewable energy technologies. Among the sources of renewable energies for the mass market, hydrogen and lithium-ion battery are promising candidates due to their high efficiency and easiness of conversion into other types of energy. However, hydrogen will degrade material mechanical properties and lithium insertion can cause electrode failures in battery owing to their high mobilities and strong chemo-mechanical coupling effects. These problems seriously prevent the large-scale applications of these renewable energy sources. In this thesis, the atomistic and continuum modeling are performed to study the chemical-mechanical failures. The objective is to understand the hydrogen embrittlement of grain boundary engineered metals and the lithium insertion-induced fracture in alloy electrodes for lithium-ion batteries. Hydrogen in metallic containment systems such as high-pressure vessels and pipelines causes the degradation of their mechanical properties that can result in sudden catastrophic fracture. A wide range of hydrogen embrittlement phenomena was attributed to the loss of cohesion of interfaces (between grains, inclusion and matrix, or phases) due to interstitially dissolved hydrogen. Our modeling and simulation of hydrogen embrittlement will address the question of why susceptibility to hydrogen embrittlement in metallic materials can be markedly reduced by grain boundary engineering. Implications of our results for efficient hydrogen storage and transport at high pressures are discussed. Silicon is one of the most promising anode materials for Li-ion batteries (LIB) because of the highest known theoretical charge capacity. However, Si anodes often suffer from pulverization and capacity fading. This is caused by the large volume changes of Si (~300%) upon Li insertion/extraction close to the theoretical charging/discharging limit. In particular, large incompatible deformation between areas of different Li contents tends to initiate fracture, leading to electro-chemical-mechanical failures of Si electrodes. In order to understand the chemo-mechanical mechanisms, we begin with the study of basic fracture modes in pure silicon, and then study the diffusion induced deformation and fracture in lithiated Si. Results have implications for increasing battery capacity and reliability. To improve mechanical stability of LIB anode, failure mechanisms of silicon and coated tin-oxide nanowires have been studied at continuum level. It's shown that anisotropic diffusivity and anisotropic deformation play vital roles in lithiation process. Our predictions of fracture initiation and evolution are verified by in situ experiment observations. Due to the mechanical confinement of the coating layers, our study demonstrates that it is possible to simultaneously control the electrochemical reaction rate and the mechanical strain of the electrode materials through carbon or aluminum coating, which opens new avenues of designing better lithium ion batteries. This thesis addresses the nano-chemo-mechanical failure problems in two green energy-carrier systems toward improving the performance of Li-ion battery anode and hydrogen storage system. It provides an atomistic and continuum modeling framework for the study of chemo-mechanics of advanced materials such as nano-structured metals and alloys. The results help understand the chemical effects of impurities on the mechanical properties of host materials with different metallic and covalent bonding characteristics.