UK-based battery innovations bag £55m in Government funding

Pictured: The Faraday Institution's HQ in Harwell

According to the body, which is funded through the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the funding will deliver 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”.

Each of the projects to receive support under the new round of funding will run for four years. They are:

  • Nextrode – A project at the University of Oxford working to transform the way electrodes for lithium-ion batteries are manufactured. Led by researchers, the project will draw on the expertise of five other universities (University of Birmingham, University College London, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton and University of Warwick )and six external businesses. Its aim is to develop electrodes that could extend battery life and help usher in the next generation of “smart” electric vehicles (EVs).
  • FutureCat – The University of Sheffield’s project centred on delivering cathodes that hold more charge and are better suited to withstand prolonged cycling and promote ion mobility while reducing the dependency of cell manufacturers on cobalt.
  • CAMAT – The University of Bath’s research into innovative cathode materials, in a bid to minimise the environmental impact of battery life-cycles.
  • NEXGENNA – The University of St Andrews’ R&D scheme surrounding sodium ion batteries. In partnership with three businesses, five overseas research bodies and five UK laboratories, the project will seek to put sodium ion batteries on the path to commercialisation while maintaining performance and safety.
  • The Lithium-Sulfur Technology Accelerator (LiSTAR) – UCL’s join scheme centred around enabling rapid improvements in lithium-ion technologies through research at material, cell and system level.

Collectively, these five projects will create 80 so-called “green-collar” jobs across the UK.

“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,” the Faraday Institution’s chief executive Neil Morris said.

“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.”

The road ahead

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi added that the projects funded under the Institution’s funding expansion would play a part in the UK’s bid for “all cars and vans to be effectively zero emission by 2040”, as outlined in its Road to Zero strategy.

Published last autumn, the strategy sets out how the Government intends to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, highlighting low-carbon fuels and hybrid vehicles as solutions to bridge the transition in the meantime.

It sets an interim target of ensuring more than half of new car sales and 40% of new van sales are ultra-low emission by 2030 – which has been widely criticised across the green economy as non-compliant with national and international climate targets.

Moreover, critics of the Strategy have claimed that it is not ambitious enough to suggest the challenges surrounding infrastructure and natural resources when it comes to EV uptake.

On the former, recent PwC research found that UK charge point installations experienced a compound annual growth rate of just 44% between 2014 and 2017, despite an annual doubling of the national EV stock.  

And, regarding the circular economy, experts believe there is not enough cobalt in the world to replace every working petrol or diesel vehicle on the roads with fully electric alternatives. Moreover, batteries are typically warrantied for less than 15 years and considered hard to recycle, even though they contain high proportions of recyclable and high-value metals. The good news is that the likes of BMW, Nissan and Formula E are beginning to invest heavily in more circular battery products and systems, and that startups in this space are continuing to innovate.

Sarah George

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