How Solid-Electrolyte Interphase Forms in Aqueous Electrolytes

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Solid-electrolyte interphase (SEI) is the key component that enables all advanced electrochemical devices, the best representative of which is Li-ion battery (LIB). It kinetically stabilizes electrolytes at potentials far beyond their thermodynamic stability limits, so that cell reactions could proceed reversibly. Its ad hoc chemistry and formation mechanism has been a topic under intensive investigation since the first commercialization of LIB 25 years ago. Traditionally SEI can only be formed in nonaqueous electrolytes. However, recent efforts successfully transplanted this concept into aqueous media, leading to significant expansion in the electrochemical stability window of aqueous electrolytes from 1.23 V to beyond 4.0 V. This not only made it possible to construct a series of high voltage/energy density aqueous LIBs with unprecedented safety, but also brought high flexibility and even "open configurations" that have been hitherto unavailable for any LIB chemistries. While this new class of aqueous electrolytes has been successfully demonstrated to support diversified battery chemistries, the chemistry and formation mechanism of the key component, an aqueous SEI, has remained virtually unknown. In this work, combining various spectroscopic, electrochemical and computational techniques, we rigorously examined this new interphase, and comprehensively characterized its chemical composition, microstructure and stability in battery environment. A dynamic picture obtained reveals how a dense and protective interphase forms on anode surface under competitive decompositions of salt anion, dissolved ambient gases and water molecule. By establishing basic laws governing the successful formation of an aqueous SEI, the in-depth understanding presented in this work will assist the efforts in tailor-designing better interphases that enable more energetic chemistries operating farther away from equilibria in aqueous media.