Visualizing non-equilibrium lithiation of spinel oxide via in situ transmission electron microscopy

Kai He, Sen Zhang, Jing Li, Xiqian Yu, Qingping Meng, Yizhou Zhu, Enyuan Hu, Ke Sun, Hongseok Yun, Xiao Qing Yang, Yimei Zhu, Hong Gan, Yifei Mo, Eric A. Stach, Christopher B. Murray, Dong Su*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Spinel transition metal oxides are important electrode materials for lithium-ion batteries, whose lithiation undergoes a two-step reaction, whereby intercalation and conversion occur in a sequential manner. These two reactions are known to have distinct reaction dynamics, but it is unclear how their kinetics affects the overall electrochemical response. Here we explore the lithiation of nanosized magnetite by employing a strain-sensitive, bright-field scanning transmission electron microscopy approach. This method allows direct, real-time, high-resolution visualization of how lithiation proceeds along specific reaction pathways. We find that the initial intercalation process follows a two-phase reaction sequence, whereas further lithiation leads to the coexistence of three distinct phases within single nanoparticles, which has not been previously reported to the best of our knowledge. We use phase-field theory to model and describe these non-equilibrium reaction pathways, and to directly correlate the observed phase evolution with the battery's discharge performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11441
JournalNature communications
StatePublished - May 9 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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