UK leads drive to develop next generation of car batteries with £55m of funding

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research institute backed by the UK government has announced £55m of funding for battery projects in a bid to improve the technology that sits at the heart of electric vehicles.

The Faraday Institution announced that it will award up to £55 million to five UK-based consortia to conduct application-inspired research to make step changes in battery chemistries, systems and manufacturing methods. The ultimate aim of the research is to facilitate improvements in batteries used for transport and other applications such as grid storage with improved performance and cost characteristics.

The new projects in four focus areas join the existing Faraday Institution research projects that collectively aim to deliver the organisation’s mission to accelerate breakthroughs in energy storage technologies to benefit the UK in the global race to electrification. This expanded portfolio has the dual aims of improving current generation lithium ion batteries as well as longer horizon materials discovery and optimisation projects to support the commercialisation of next-generation batteries.

Nextrode

Led by the University of Oxford, Nextrode aims to “revolutionise the way electrodes for [lithium ion] batteries are manufactured”. It will study how materials assemble as electrodes are cast and develop new manufacturing tools. It aims to “usher in a new generation of smart, high performance electrodes, which could enable EVs with a longer range and batteries that are more durable”.

Lithium-Sulfur Technology Accelerator

Focusing on “one of the most attractive alternative technologies available”, this UCL-led project aims to “enable rapid improvements in [lithium-sulfur] technologies by generating new knowledge, materials and engineering solution, thanks to its dual focus on fundamental research at material and cell level, and an improved approach to system engineering”. If the potential of the material is realised it could take batteries for cars and other applications beyond the “inherent limitations” of lithium-ion, the government said.

FutureCat

This consortium, led by the University of Sheffield, aims to deliver cathodes that hold more charge, are more resilient to prolonged cycling, promote ion mobility – increasing durability, range and electric vehicle acceleration – and reduce manufacturer dependency on cobalt. It will investigate tailored protective coatings and designer interfaces.

Nexgenna

Led by the University of St Andrews and involving collaborations including the Diamond Light Source, this consortium hopes to “accelerate the development of sodium-ion battery technology by taking a multi-disciplinary approach incorporating fundamental chemistry right through to considerations for scale-up and cell manufacturing”. Its aim is to start commercialising a safe sodium-ion battery with high performance, low cost and a long cycle life. Sodium-ion could be an attractive choice for low-cost applications in future.

Catmat

Involving seven universities – led by the University of Bath – and 12 industry partners – this project hopes to discover novel cathode materials with enhanced properties by studying the ‘fundamental mechanisms’ currently preventing nickel- and lithium-rich cathodes. It will scale up synthesis of the most promising new materials and use them in batteries to demonstrate performance.

Business Minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said,

Today’s funding backs scientists and innovators to collaborate on projects that will deliver a brighter, cleaner future on our roads. We are committed to ensuring that the UK is at the forefront of developing the battery technologies needed to achieve our aim for all cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040.”

The Faraday Battery Challenge is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), overseen by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to help transform the production of batteries for the future of electric vehicles (EVs) in the UK.

Neil Morris, CEO of the Faraday Institution, said,

It is imperative that the UK takes a lead role in increasing the efficiency of energy storage as the world moves towards low carbon economies and seeks to switch to clean methods of energy production. Improvements in EV cost, range and longevity are desired by existing EV owners and those consumers looking to purchase an EV as their next or subsequent car. Our research to improve this web of battery performance indicators (which are different for different sectors) are being researched, with a sense of urgency, by the Faraday Institution and its academic and industrial partners. Our fundamental research programmes are putting the UK at the forefront of this disruptive societal, environmental and economic change.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said,

Bringing together experts across industry and academia, this exciting research will grow our understanding of battery chemistries and manufacturing methods, with the potential to significantly improve the UK’s ability to develop the high-performance electric vehicles of the future.”

The projects, which are expected to run over four years, address battery challenges faced by industry and leverage the UK’s world-class research capabilities to advance scientific knowledge with the aim of commercialising new battery technologies and processes.

Three of the Faraday Institution’s four existing projects are focused on improving current generation lithium-ion battery chemistry, performance and recyclability. The fourth is seeking to address the scientific barriers facing the commercial realisation of solid-state batteries. These projects were launched early in 2018, totalling £42m and involve over 200 researchers from 20 universities, with their 30+ industrial partners.

The new projects announced today, for the first time, include the University of Nottingham and the University of Surrey as consortium partners, further strengthening the Faraday Institution’s network of member universities. The new projects will create nearly 80 new positions for early career researchers, many of whom are expected to move into battery science and engineering from other fields.

The topics for the new research projects were chosen after consultation with industry, academia, local and central government and other stakeholders at workshops held across the UK in 2018. Industry partners will work closely with university researchers for the duration of the projects. This collaboration will ensure that the research produces findings and solutions that meet the needs of the UK’s businesses. The 32 industrial partners involved in the projects announced today have pledged a total of £4.4 million in in-kind support. The terms of the awards are currently being finalised.

The Faraday Institution welcomes approaches by industry representatives who wish to explore the possibility of collaborating in its research projects and skills development initiatives.

For more information on the Faraday Institution, visit faraday.ac.uk or follow @FaradayInst on twitter.

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