Department of Chemistry

EPSRC funds vital energy storage research

Chemical engineering and chemistry academics at Surrey are collaborating to explore fundamental research into sodium-ion batteries (SIBs) – which could pave the way for a solution to the UK’s challenge of increasing renewable energy storage.

The University has been awarded £430,000 by EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) for the three year research project, which is part of a major joint project with Queen Mary University of London (lead partner), in conjunction with leading UK battery manufacturers. The research is being led at Surrey by Dr Qiong Cai of the Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering, working with Professor Robert Slade of the Department of Chemistry.

The project addresses a key challenge: the need to develop more cost-effective energy storage solutions than those currently available. Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have become the technology of choice for electrical energy storage applications such as electric vehicles and grid energy storage. However the limited lithium resource and its uneven distribution in the world means that an alternative solution is needed for large scale applications of batteries.

In the UK, the government’s target of generating 20 per cent of electricity from renewables by 2020 means that there is a particularly urgent need to develop cost-effective battery technologies, which will be essential in enabling intermittent renewable electricity to be accommodated by the national grid.

SIBs are a potential solution to this challenge because sodium sources are much more abundant than lithium, and they are low cost. However current SIBs cannot compete with LIBs in terms of their performance.

The research project aims to advance fundamental knowledge in the development of low cost anodes used in SIBs by developing molecular models which will enable researchers to examine in detail how they perform and react, allowing them to design new, high performance materials. The combination of Surrey’s molecular simulation expertise, with novel materials synthesis and advanced characterisation at Queen Mary, will be used to develop next-generation SIB batteries. 

Dr Qiong Cai explained: “Lithium and sodium are both alkaline metal groups, so people have expected them to behave in a similar way and ‘borrowed’ the development of LIBs for SIBs. In this project we will be taking a step back to examine the fundamental mechanisms within SIBs, with the aim of accelerating the commercialisation of these batteries in the UK.”

The project, ‘ISCF Wave 1: Designing Electrodes for Na Ion Batteries via Structure Electrochemical Performance Correlations’, began in October 2017. It is being funded by a total grant of £1.1m by EPSRC.

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