Relationship between pore size and reversible and irreversible immobilization of ionic liquid electrolytes in porous carbon under applied electric potential

Published in Applied Physics Letters, 2016

Abstract: Transport of electrolytes in nanoporous carbon-based electrodes largely defines the function and performance of energy storage devices. Using molecular dynamics simulation and quasielastic neu- tron scattering, we investigate the microscopic dynamics of a prototypical ionic liquid electrolyte, [emim][Tf2N], under applied electric potential in carbon materials with 6.7 nm and 1.5 nm pores. The simulations demonstrate the formation of dense layers of counter-ions near the charged surfa- ces, which is reversible when the polarity is reversed. In the experiment, the ions immobilized near the surface manifest themselves in the elastic scattering signal. The experimentally observed ion immobilization near the wall is fully reversible as a function of the applied electric potential in the 6.7 nm, but not in the 1.5 nm nanopores. In the latter case, remarkably, the first application of the electric potential leads to apparently irreversible immobilization of cations or anions, depending on the polarity, near the carbon pore walls. This unexpectedly demonstrates that in carbon electrode materials with the small pores, which are optimal for energy storage applications, the polarity of the electrical potential applied for the first time after the introduction of an ionic liquid electrolyte may define the decoration of the small pore walls with ions for prolonged periods of time and possi- bly for the lifetime of the electrode.