A new research consortium led by Professor Saiful Islam (Chemistry) has been awarded £11.2 million by the Faraday Institution to explore and develop new materials for next-generation lithium batteries that can be used for electric vehicles.

The research aims to deliver improvements in the cost, performance and range of batteries used in electric vehicles, helping pave the way for zero emission transport.

The grant from the Faraday Institution will fund a four-year project entitled Next Generation Lithium-Ion Cathode Materials (CATMAT) to carry out research on new positive electrodes (cathodes) for battery technologies, similar to those that have helped to power the worldwide portable revolution in mobile phones, and laptop and tablet computers.

Current batteries contain cobalt, and there is a need to eliminate or greatly reduce the need for cobalt, which has significant cost, ethical and environmental issues. The new project will aim to transform fundamental understanding of novel cathodes that currently prevent the use of nickel-rich cathode materials (with low or no cobalt) and lithium-rich cathodes.

The multidisciplinary team is led by Professor Saiful Islam together with Dr Ben Morgan from the University’s Department of Chemistry. Other academic partners include University of Birmingham, University of Cambridge, University of Liverpool, University of Oxford, University College London and Diamond Light Source, bringing together a range of complementary strengths and new capabilities. The project will create up to 20 new positions for early career researchers.

The CATMAT project also has strong engagement with 12 industrial partners including Johnson Matthey, LG Chem, Huntsman, Williams Advanced Engineering and Qinetiq, and have already pledged a total of £1.1 million in in-kind support. This industrial collaboration will ensure that the research produces solutions that lead to technological and economic impact.

Welcoming the funding, Professor Saiful Islam said: “Energy storage is one of the major research challenges of our time. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery has transformed portable electronics and now has a crucial role in electric vehicles to lowering carbon emissions and improving air quality.

“The biggest performance gains to lithium-ion batteries are likely to come from changes to the chemistry of the positive electrode (cathode). Our new project therefore aims to develop new generations of cathode materials that deliver improvements in batteries used for electric vehicles with improved performance in cost and range.”

Powering Britain’s battery revolution, the Faraday Institution is the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage science and technology, supporting research, training, and analysis. The Faraday Institution’s mission is to accelerate breakthroughs in energy storage technologies to benefit the UK in the global race to electrification.

Boosting energy storage

The new CATMAT project will use a multidisciplinary research programme of underpinning science to engineer solutions that tackle key challenges. Chemists, materials modellers and manufacturing engineers will work together in close contact with supply chain companies and end-users.

The consortium will use their research findings to inform the discovery of novel cathode materials with enhanced properties. It will scale up the synthesis of the most promising new materials and assimilate them into battery cells to demonstrate performance.

Professor Islam’s and Dr Morgan’s research at Bath uses powerful computer modelling techniques to help explore and understand battery materials on the atomic scale that can be tested in experimental labs.

Professor Islam added: “Materials performance lies at the heart of the development of green energy technologies. Our research will involve developing and designing new materials that can be integrated into lab-scale battery devices thus demonstrating our key advances.”

Professor Peter Bruce, Wolfson Chair in Materials at the University of Oxford, added: “The multidisciplinary team will work with our industrial partners to accelerate the pull through of basic research to practical prototypes of future battery systems for electrical vehicles. An important aspect of the project will be a new cohort of trained researchers in the green energy sector.”

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.”

The University of Bath is a major centre for multidisciplinary research in energy and the environment, which includes the Institute for Sustainable Energy & the Environment (I-SEE) the Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies (CSCT) and the new Institute of Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems (IAAPS).