The Energy Materials Group

Welcome to the Energy Materials Group. Here you will find information about who we are, what research we do, and how to join the team!

Housed within the School of Metallurgy & Materials at the University of Birmingham, we focus on the development of battery materials and manufacturing processes. The aim is to build better batteries through research – this will help realise a sustainable economy and a carbon‑neutral future through the electrification of our transport sector and increasing the utilisation of renewable energy sources.

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Research Topics

The group primarily focuses on existing and novel battery technologies. The research the group does can be categorised into four streams: Materials, Manufacturing, Recycling, and Modelling. Below you will be able to find more information about each research stream.

Materials

The development of battery materials with higher energy density, higher power density, better safety, lower cost, and faster charging is needed to further the electrification of the transport and energy sectors. The research group is looking into the development of several different chemistries, including lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries, and solid-state batteries. For lithium-ion batteries, there has been focus on nickel-rich cathode materials due to their higher energy density and the need to reduce reliance on unethically-sourced cobalt. Sodium-ion batteries are promising due to the relative abundance of sodium and their low cost compared to lithium-based batteries, despite a lower energy density they may prove to be a promising technology for stationary energy storage. Batteries using a solid electrolyte (ceramic or polymer gel) rather than an organic solvent are much safer; although they are not widely commercialised, rapid progress has been made to do so in the last few years.

Manufacturing

An increase in battery performance can also be achieved by improving the manufacturing process by studying the effects these processes have on the structure and electrochemistry of the materials. Tailoring battery manufacturing processes such as mixing, coating, drying, calendaring, and formation will enable the production of battery electrodes with desirable properties. Despite the inherent advantage of understanding the manufacturing processes, there has been little research into the fundamental chemistry – the group is aiming to ‘drill’ down into these processes and use this research to drive innovation in manufacturing. If a small improvement can be made at each manufacturing stage, battery performance can be increased and cost reduced, overall it will ‘unlock’ a significant improvement in the technology.

Recycling

Lithium-ion batteries will not be realised as a ‘green technology’ unless they can become a part of a closed-loop recycling system. Battery cells contain many valuable materials, including pure copper and aluminium, but also iron, cobalt, manganese, and nickel containing-compounds. Therefore it is imperative that robust recycling methods are developed in order to reclaim these materials so they can be utilised in battery remanufacture – reducing the overall carbon footprint of batteries and their cost. The group is focussing on developing novel methods to efficiently reclaim these materials and demonstrating that new cells produced retain their electrochemical performance. Currently lithium‑ion batteries are only 20-30% recycled, the aim is to replicate the success of the lead-acid battery industry and attain a recycling rate >95%.

Modelling

Throughout battery operation, the battery is carefully monitored by a battery management system (BMS). The BMS monitors outputs (such as coolant temperature and voltage) and actions inputs (current and coolant temperature) based on battery performance. The efficacy of the BMS is governed by the model it utilises – therefore better models will increase the lifetime and performance of batteries by predicting degradation modes and acting to mitigate them. Models can also be used to improve battery manufacturing by understanding the processes occurring and being used for optimisation. Industry currently relies on empirical evidence to optimise their manufacturing processes, so providing robust modelling tools to industry is essential to push battery technology further.

 

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