For the first time, it is demonstrated that nanoscale HfO2 surface passivation layers formed by atomic layer deposition (ALD) significantly improve the performance of Li ion batteries with SnO2-based anodes. Specifically, the measured battery capacity at a current density of 150 mAg -1 after 100 cycles is 548 and 853 mAhg-1 for the uncoated and HfO2-coated anodes, respectively. Material analysis reveals that the HfO2 layers are amorphous in nature and conformably coat the SnO2-based anodes. In addition, the analysis reveals that ALD HfO2 not only protects the SnO2-based anodes from irreversible reactions with the electrolyte and buffers its volume change, but also chemically interacts with the SnO2 anodes to increase battery capacity, despite the fact that HfO2 is itself electrochemically inactive. The amorphous nature of HfO2 is an important factor in explaining its behavior, as it still allows sufficient Li diffusion for an efficient anode lithiation/delithiation process to occur, leading to higher battery capacity. © 2014 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.