Nikhila C. Paranamana, Ryan Gettler, Henry Koenig, Stephen Montgomery-Smith, Xiaoqing He, Matthias J. Young, Measuring Local Atomic Structure Variations Through the Depth of Ultrathin (<20 nm) ALD Aluminum Oxide: Implications for Lithium-Ion Batteries. ACS Applied Nano Materials, 2022, 5, 9, 12582-12591.
Understanding the atomic structure of ultrathin (<20 nm) atomic layer deposition (ALD) coatings is critical to establish structure property relationships and accelerate the application of ALD films to stabilize battery interfaces. Previous studies have measured the atomic structure of nanoscale ALD films using cryogenic electron diffraction with a large (~200 nm) beam diameter. However, for ultrathin ALD coatings, these measurements provide only ensemble average structural information and cannot be used to directly measure differences in atomic structure through the depth of the ALD film. In this study, we localize the electron beam to a small (~ 5 nm) spot size using cryogenic scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM) and we collect electron diffraction data at multiple points along the depth of a 12 nm thick ALD AlOx film deposited onto a CNT substrate without a contribution from the substrate. We couple these diffraction measurements with pair distribution function (PDF) analysis and iterative reverse Monte Carlo-molecular statics (RMC-MS) modeling to compare atomic structure metrics at different positions in the film depth. We interpret the modeling results considering the 3D concentric cylindrical sample geometry of a CNT with uniform AlOx coating. These measurements confirm a two-phase bulk/interface structural model proposed previously for ALD AlOx and indicate that the interfacial layer at the CNT-AlOx interface is 2.5 nm thick - five times larger than previously reported. This report demonstrates direct measurement of atomic structural variations across nanoscale material interfaces that is of broad interest for electrochemical applications and will help inform the use of ALD coatings to stabilize lithium-ion battery interfaces.
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