Nat Commun. 2022 Aug 20;13(1):4908. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-32557-w.
Lithium carbonate plays a critical role in both lithium-carbon dioxide and lithium-air batteries as the main discharge product and a product of side reactions, respectively. Understanding the decomposition of lithium carbonate during electrochemical oxidation (during battery charging) is key for improving both chemistries, but the decomposition mechanisms and the role of the carbon substrate remain under debate. Here, we use an in-situ differential electrochemical mass spectrometry-gas chromatography coupling system to quantify the gas evolution during the electrochemical oxidation of lithium carbonate on carbon substrates. Our results show that lithium carbonate decomposes to carbon dioxide and singlet oxygen mainly via an electrochemical process instead of via a chemical process in an electrolyte of lithium bis(trifluoromethanesulfonyl)imide in tetraglyme. Singlet oxygen attacks the carbon substrate and electrolyte to form both carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide-approximately 20% of the net gas evolved originates from these side reactions. Additionally, we show that cobalt(II,III) oxide, a typical oxygen evolution catalyst, stabilizes the precursor of singlet oxygen, thus inhibiting the formation of singlet oxygen and consequent side reactions.