£19 million committed to battery research

Birmingham Energy Institute to support Faraday Institution battery research projects refocused for maximum impact

An electric car being charged

Researchers will work on targeting new materials to extend ranges of electric cars and reduce the charging times

The Faraday Institution, the UK’s flagship institute for electrochemical energy storage research, has announced a £19 million investment in four key battery research projects aimed at delivering impact for the UK. These existing projects in three research areas — next generation cathode materials, electrode manufacturing and sodium-ion batteries — have been reshaped to focus on the areas with the greatest potential for success.

Researchers from the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Energy Storage will support the Nextrode, CATMAT, and NEXGENNA projects. The work led by Professor Emma Kendrick and Professor Peter Slater will involve:

  • targeting new materials to extend car ranges and reduce charging times
  • exploring materials synthesis at scale
  • investigating strategies to reduce the cost of battery manufacturing
  • eliminating reliance on Ni and Co, thus reducing material costs

Minister for Industry and Economic Security Nusrat Ghani said: “The UK automotive sector is at the cutting edge of exploiting innovative technologies. These have the potential to create jobs, grow the economy and accelerate how we reach net-zero. This package of funding will help industry and government work together and take decisive action in targeting areas where the UK is leading the way. This government has shown time and time again that we are committed to creating the right conditions to make the UK the best location in the world to manufacture.”

With more than 500 researchers from 27 universities and 85+ industry partners, the Faraday Institution continues to drive innovation in energy storage technologies that will transform the UK energy landscape from transportation to the grid.

Professor Pam Thomas, CEO, Faraday Institution, commented: “The Faraday Institution remains steadfast in its commitment to identify and invest in battery research initiatives that hold the greatest potential for making significant societal, environmental, and commercial contributions. This announcement signals the completion of our latest round of project refocusing, enabling us to allocate even more effort towards those areas of research that offer maximum potential in delivering transformative impact.”

As part of this project refocusing and its ongoing efforts to drive impact in energy storage research, the Faraday Institution recently issued an open call for short, costed proposals for new research topics with tightly defined scopes that strengthen delivery of these core research projects. The list of successful applicants is found here and the new research areas have been integrated into the coordinated projects. The round was highly competitive with 40 proposals submitted.

James Gaade, Research Programme Director commented: “We are pleased that the reshaping process has bolstered the capabilities and expertise of researchers on the four projects. The realignment includes a focus around research into sustainable manufacturing methods and materials, and the need to further develop and scale up manufacture of promising materials discovered in the first three years of the projects.”

The majority of the funding for this programme, £17.1 million, is provided by the Faraday Battery Challenge, which is delivered by Innovate UK for UK Research and Innovation. The Department of Science, Innovation and Technology is providing £1.1 million of support for collaboration between US and UK researchers in next generation cathode materials over the period 1 October 2023 – 31 March 2025. The sodium-ion battery research project, NEXGENNA, is receiving £0.8 million over the same time period via UK aid from the UK government via Transforming Energy Access (TEA).

Project details

The refocused research projects, including targeting market opportunities and early-stage commercial development, are in the following areas:

Nextrode – Electrode Manufacturing

Nextrode is focused on researching, understanding and quantifying the potential of smart electrode manufacturing to reduce manufacturing costs and improve the performance of batteries. Benefits could be realised in both mature material systems already used commercially and to new emerging high performance battery systems. The project is developing new practical manufacturing innovations – including to traditional slurry cast electrodes and novel low or no solvent electrodes – that could deliver the benefits of smart electrodes to the industrial scale and improve sustainability of processes.

The project is researching the underpinning manufacturing science that could alleviate constraints in electrode manufacturing through engineering particle design and improved understanding of the relationship between powder properties and deposition/calendering techniques. Nextrode is designing manufacturing process steps and using advanced in-line measurements to enable slurry casting to be brought under closed-loop control. Researchers are manufacturing new arrangements of anode and cathode materials, identifying conditions where benefits are maximised and developing cells that expand the energy-power-lifetime design space.

Nextrode is led by Principal Investigator Prof Patrick Grant, University of Oxford. The team also includes researchers from the universities of Birmingham, Sheffield, Southampton, 

Warwick and UCL, and newly joined by Imperial College London. The project partners collaborate closely with the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre. One example of the project’s close collaboration with UKBIC is a modelling and experimental programme to more accurately predict how slurries behave on taking mixes from the lab scale to the kilogramme scale.

Cathode Research

Two Faraday Institution projects seek to improve battery performance and cost via the discovery and characterisation of next generation lithium-ion cathode chemistries to deepen understanding of the underpinning mechanisms and mechanics. FutureCat has a focus on high-capacity, high-performance nickel-rich oxide cathodes targeting premium electric vehicle applications and delivering these at scale. CATMAT is focusing on high energy density lithium-rich cathodes and reducing reliance on supply-chain at-risk elements (including cobalt and nickel), while delivering performance that exceeds lithium iron phosphate.

FutureCat – High nickel content, high performance cathode materials

FutureCat is targeting step-changes in:

  • Understanding novel redox processes as a route to stabilise both high capacity, high performance, nickel rich and emerging cathodes. The project continues its focus on doped and dual-doped lithium nickel oxides (LNO) (both polycrystalline and single crystals), including use of protective coatings. The team will also investigate the use of polyanionic cathodes, use modelling to inform the search for new candidate materials, and research designer electrolytes with the intention of stabilising the interphase layer.
  • Scalable designer morphologies. The project will build on its success with doped-LNO in developing reliable, scalable routes to deliver longer lifetime, high-energy/power cathodes through the use of gradient morphologies, co-doped cathodes (with the aim of delivering reversible discharge capacities exceeding 220 mAh/g), single crystal particles and thin coatings.
  • Materials delivery: The scale up of the high nickel W-LNO material previously developed by FutureCat is being transferred to the Degradation project for testing in industry-relevant pouch cells. FutureCat will continue to investigate the manufacturing scale-up of other Ni-rich cathode materials, down-selecting promising active materials based on earth-abundant elements. Research includes the use of laser patterning to increase power densities, investigation of cracking as a failure mechanism to determine routes to resilient cathode manufacture, atomic layer deposition of coatings to improve electrode longevity, and optimisation of cycle life through the use of electrically conductive binders.

Professor Serena Cussen, University of Sheffield, and Professor Louis Piper, WMG, University of Warwick, co-lead this project, which also comprises research teams at the 

universities of Cambridge, Birmingham, Imperial College London, Lancaster, and newly joined by Nottingham and Diamond Light Source.

CATMAT – High energy density, sustainable cathode materials

CATMAT seeks to understand the critical properties and limitations of lithium-rich oxygen-redox cathodes and novel anion-chemistry cathodes, thereby developing solutions to the scientific roadblocks that are hindering their use in EV batteries. In doing so it aims to design and demonstrate high rate, increased reversible capacity and high voltage cathodes. Researchers will also seek to understand the mechanism of intercalation/deintercalation in disordered rocksalt cathodes to underpin mitigation strategies to overcome existing voltage, capacity and cycling issues. New synthesis methods will be developed and optimised to facilitate scalable manufacturing routes for cathodes with a reduced reliance on cobalt and nickel. Experimental, modelling and cell performance evaluation will be used to down-select the most promising cathodes to be taken forward and synthesised at scales of around 100 g – 1 kg using scalable green synthesis routes and low energy manufacturing methods. Researchers will optimise the morphology of cathode powders and investigate manufacture of composite materials, core shell and coatings for optimal performance. Materials will be assimilated in full battery cells and their performance characterised in proof-of-concept devices.

Prof Saiful Islam, University of Oxford, leads the CATMAT project, which also includes researchers from the universities of Bath, Birmingham, Cambridge, Liverpool and UCL.

NEXGENNA – Sodium-ion Batteries

NEXGENNA is developing next generation sodium-ion batteries (NIBs), a technology on the cusp of commercialisation that is suited to applications (such as low-cost mobility and static storage) where lifetime operational cost (not energy density or weight) is the overriding factor. The project aims to surpass the performance of lithium iron phosphate/graphite batteries by improving the energy density, power, and lifetime of NIBs while maintaining sustainability, safety, and cost advantages. Its multi-disciplinary approach incorporates improvements to the chemistry of the main cell components, culminating in scale-up and cell manufacturing at the new prototyping facility at the University of St Andrews.

Various approaches are being used to improve positive electrodes, targeting higher energy density (composites that exploit anion redox), cycle life (via pillaring) and sustainability (low cost layered materials). To improve the capacity of negative electrodes, researchers are investigating sodium inclusion in hard-carbon composites, prioritising scalable, low-cost, and energy-efficient synthesis. The project is making improvements to existing electrolyte formulations, seeking processing improvements to electrolyte additives (NaPF6 salts), and developing new electrolytes that could enhance performance of NIBs by expanding the voltage window, enabling new electrode chemistries to be explored.

Researchers also aim to develop an improved mechanistic understanding of the solid/electrolyte interphase layer, metal plating and investigate the feasibility of anode-free 

NIBs. Emerging positive, negative and electrolyte materials will be combined, scaled up to pouch cells and benchmarked against commercially available materials.

Prof John Irvine, University of St Andrews, is Principal Investigator. Working closely with industry partners, the team also includes researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Imperial College London, Lancaster, STFC, and newly joined consortium partner Birmingham.

The new phase of the four research projects described here will progress over the two years from 1 October 2023 to 30 September 2025, with a break clause at 31 March 2025.

The reshaping of the organisation’s six other large, coordinated research projects on extending battery life, battery modelling, recycling and reuse, safety, solid-state batteries, and lithium-sulfur batteries was announced in March 2023.

The reshaping of the projects was a thorough process that involved revision of the scope of existing research areas, an open call for proposals in new research areas and input from senior researchers, the Faraday Institution’s expert panel, and a panel of internationally recognised independent experts from academia and industry. The focus was on how to enhance the UK’s position in electrochemical energy storage research and make UK industry more competitive, building on the progress made over the past five years.