The Faraday Institution’s funding—monitored by the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy—is benefiting 5 key UK consortia. These organisations each have a unique hand in driving lithium-ion progress forward. Most of these enhancements will result from manufacturing improvements and cathode design refinements. Dubbed the Faraday Battery Challenge, the collaborative effort stems from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.
Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) often suffer from safety issues, both in production and usage. Effective lifespan is also an area of concern. Our current generation of batteries could use a durability boost. Manufacturing efficiency is also lacking: we need higher yields from existing production methods. The consortia taking on the Faraday Battery Challenge are meeting these challenges head-on. By shoring up manufacturing, engineers in the UK are hoping to develop a scalable, practical solution.
There are currently 5 projects, each spearheaded by collections of organisations:
An initiative to facilitate next-generation electrode manufacturing, led by the University of Oxford, various university partners, and 6 industry partners. These efforts are meant to improve electrode manufacturing and create new production tools, ultimately creating batteries with greater range and effective lifespan. Investigation into cathode-driven performance gains is also a top priority.
Headed by the University of Sheffield, various university partners, and nine industry partners, whose research is focused on developing innovating new cathode chemistries. The goal is creating cathode designs that hold more charge and withstand repeated cycling. Improved range and acceleration are expected thanks to improved ion activity. These changes aim to reduce manufacturers’ controversial cobalt dependence, making production greener and less demanding.
The University of St. Andrews is collaborating with 5 UK laboratories, industrial partners, and overseas research institutes to create viable sodium-ion batteries. These are billed as high-performance, durable alternatives to LIBs. Production and unit costs will also be lower. Sodium-ion technology is best suited for static storage cells and low-cost vehicles.
LiSTAR (Lithium-Sulfur Technology Accelerator)
University College London is leading an effort to rapidly develop Lithium-sulfur (Li-S) improvements at the cell and material levels. avoids some key shortcomings of LIBs. New advancements in systems-engineering processes will make this viable for numerous applications.
Advancements in battery technology could mean cleaner operation and improved longevity. Pictured: a close-up of an electric vehicle charger and its corresponding port. Image credit: Bigstock.
There are some key themes we can pick out from these projects. Most advancements are focused on manufacturing scalability, sustainability, and fundamental enhancements. Both power and range improvements are on the horizon.
Faraday’s goal is to both drive existing technology forward while bringing new solutions to the forefront. Thankfully, it appears that emerging technologies will be inherently greener—one of the keystone factors in the EV movement. These changes have immense consumer and commercial value.
Lastly, cost reduction is a major selling point. Manufacturing savings will passed down to the consumer. Given that EVs are still quite expensive on average, anything that mitigates sticker shock is welcome. Add maintenance costs to that list as well. Durable, stable batteries require less upkeep and fewer replacements over the course of vehicle ownership. Naturally, this equates to reduced ownership costs and longer ownership periods.
Petrol engines are known to last 10 to 20 years, and many older cars are still on the road today. Thanks to the Faraday Battery Challenge, we may observe similar outcomes with EVs. That litmus test, if passed, will incentivise auto manufacturers to produce more vehicles. That should keep engineers focused on delivering annual improvements as EVs approach ubiquity. Battery innovations will help reduce the UK’s carbon footprint—something that researchers believe is entirely possible, providing we act sooner rather than later.
These projects will last approximately 4 years, and will create roughly 80 jobs for researchers and engineers. Many of these scientific minds will be transitioning from other disciplines to meet such challenges.