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Exploring the Ion Solvation Environments in Solid-State Polymer Electrolytes through Free-Energy Sampling


The success of poly(ethylene oxide) (PEO) in solid-state polymer electrolytes for lithium-ion batteries is well established. Recently, in order to understand this success and to explore possible alternatives, we studied polyacetal electrolytes to deepen the understanding of the effect of the local chemical structure on ion transport. Advanced molecular dynamics techniques using newly developed, tailored interaction potentials have helped elucidate the various coordination environments of ions in these systems. In particular, the competition between cation-anion pairing and coordination by the polymer has been explored using free-energy sampling (metadynamics). At equivalent reduced temperatures, with respect to the polymer-specific glass-transition temperature, two-dimensional free-energy plots reveal the existence of multiple coordination environments for the lithium (Li) ions in these systems and their relative stabilities. Furthermore, we observe that the Li-ion movement in PEO follows a serial, stepwise pathway when moving from one coordination state to another, whereas this happens in a more continuous and concerted fashion in a polyacetal such as poly(1,3-dioxalane) [P(EO-MO)]. The implication is that interconversion between coordination states of the Li ions may be easier in P(EO-MO). However, the overarching observation from our free-energy analysis is that Li-ion coordination is dominated by the polymer (in either case) and contact-ion pairs are rare. We rationalize the observed higher increase in glass-transition temperature (Tg) with salt loading in polyacetals as due to intermolecular Li-ion coordination involving multiple polymer chains, rather than just one chain for PEO-based electrolytes. This interchain coupling in the polyacetals, resulting in the higherTg, works against any gains due to variations in Li-ion coordination that might enhance transport processes over PEO. Further research is required to overcome the interdependence between local coordination and macroscopic properties to compete with PEO electrolytes at the same absolute working temperature.

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