Exploring Li-ion conductivity in cubic, tetragonal and mixed-phase Al-substituted Li7La3Zr2O12 using atomistic simulations and effective medium theory
Garnet Li7La3Zr2O12 (LLZO) is a promising solid electrolyte candidate for solid-state Li-ion batteries, but at room temperature it crystallizes in a poorly Li-ion conductive tetragonal phase. To this end, partial substitution of Li+ by Al3+ ions is an effective way to stabilize the highly conductive cubic phase at room temperature. Yet, fundamental aspects regarding this aliovalent substitution remain poorly understood. In this work, we use molecular dynamics and advanced hybrid Monte Carlo methods for systematic study of the room temperature Li-ion diffusion in tetragonal and cubic LLZO to shed light on important open questions. We find that Al substitution in tetrahedral sites of the tetragonal LLZO allows previously inaccessible sites to become available, which enhances Li-ion conductivity. In contrast, in the cubic phase Li-ion diffusion paths become blocked in the vicinity of Al ions, resulting in a decrease of Li-ion conductivity. Moreover, combining the conductivities of individual phases through an effective medium approximation allowed us to estimate the conductivities of cubic/tetragonal phase mixtures that are in good agreement with those reported in several experimental works. This suggests that phase coexistence (due to phase equilibrium or gradients in Al content within a sample) could have a significant impact on the conductivity of Al-substituted LLZO, particularly at low contents of Al3+. Overall, by making a thorough comparison with reported experimental data, the theoretical study and simulations of this work advance our current understanding of Li-ion mobility in Al-substituted LLZO garnets and might guide future in-depth characterization experiments of this relevant energy storage material.