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Published: 06 November 2013

Surrey researcher wins valuable EPRSC Fellowship Grant

Dr Izabela Jurewicz has won a grant to develop energy storage systems based on textiles – technology that could greatly improve the viability of Electric Vehicles.

While most of us are aware of the importance of using renewable forms of energy, current battery technology cannot compete with the energy densities generated by other sources such as petrol. In order for Electric Vehicles to become a mainstream, affordable choice for consumers, batteries need to become much more reliable and efficient. Similarly while portable electronic devices have become ever smaller and more complex, the batteries that power them have lagged behind in terms of size, performance and design flexibility.

Dr Jurewiczs’s three-year project, funded by a highly sought-after EPRSC Fellowship Grant, is aimed at resolving some of these issues. Focusing particularly on optimizing the structure of Lithium-air batteries (which produce energy from oxygen), she will develop textiles based on multifunctional carbon nanotube (CNT) fibres and yarns, which she believes will provide a highly conductive, versatile structure for energy storage. The project will include collaboration with the National Physical Laboratory and the University of Texas in Dallas.

While working  on an industrial project for the development of  electrodes based on silver nanowires at Surrey with her supervisor Dr Alan Dalton, Dr Jurewicz decided to take it one step further when she realised that using high surface area carbon nanotube-based textiles could solve many of the problems posed by Lithium-air batteries.

In addition to improving the viability of Electric Vehicles, which she hopes could travel 500 miles on a single charge using textile-based energy storage, Dr Jurewicz foresees a range of other potential uses for the technology. Batteries integrated into textiles could transform clothing into “smart fabrics”, providing military uniforms with a single power source, for example, or exercise wear that charges a runner’s i-Pod. The project also aims to substantially improve the capabilities of ‘Supercapacitors’ – storage devices that can be charged quickly and offer greater energy densities than traditional capacitors.

Dr Jurewicz explained: “The material is flexible and adjustable, whereas batteries are traditionally rigid and often large. This gives it huge potential uses in the future, meeting the needs of the new internet-driven technology we are seeing, which requires a more flexible approach to energy storage.”

Dr Jurewicz’s success in winning the EPRSC Fellowship Grant has come after a rigorous, year-long process. One of only nine scientists across the UK selected to face the EPRSC judging panel, she was questioned about her experience in developing textiles. Fortunately, Dr Jurewicz had an answer. “As a teenager, creating textiles, knitting and sewing were hobbies of mine so I was able to talk about that,” she explains. “I really have my grandmother to thank for my success as she taught me these skills.”

She added: “I would say that obtaining an EPRSC Fellowship Grant is the dream of every scientist at my level of experience. It means that I can develop this technology which I believe will play an important part in the future as our demand for renewable energy sources increases. It is also the perfect stepping stone for me to advance my career to the next step and realise my ambition of becoming a world-leading independent researcher.”

Dr Alan Dalton commented: “Izabela’s success is truly wonderful news and a great boost for the department and the Soft Matter Group in particular. Izabela was, in fact, the first PhD student to graduate under my supervision and it makes me very proud to see her obtain such a prestigious fellowship. The fellowship will allow her to continue to work within the group as she begins an independent research career. I look forward to many years of continued collaboration and have no doubt that this fellowship will act as a fulcrum for Izabela to achieve many more successes in the future.”

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