Battery challenge: what's after lithium?

27th April 2022
Beatrice O'Flaherty

One of the most popular forms of energy storage in the world, the lithium-ion battery is commonly used for portable electronics alongside use within larger forms of technologies such as electric vehicles.

However, with lithium-ion batteries facing several limitations regarding their lifespan, the expense of manufacture, and difficulty sourcing and extracting both lithium and cobalt, innovation to create novel cell types is being undertaken across the UK.

As part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Faraday Battery Challenge (FBC) has invested £330m in research, innovation projects, and facilities to drive the growth of a strong UK-based battery sector since 2017.

Generating ground-breaking technology that aims to put the UK at the forefront of battery innovation and production, projects funded by the challenge have so far worked towards developing these novel cell types, as well as improving existing battery technology, to reduce dependency on lithium-ion technology. 

The development of solid-state batteries that can be manufactured at a large scale is one of the most important challenges in the battery industry today. These batteries will be suitable for use in electric vehicles, and will substantially surpass the performance, safety, and processing limitations of lithium-ion batteries. 

One solid-state battery project that’s benefitted from UKRI funding is project Granite.

Carried out with partners; Jaguar Land Rover, Ilika, AMTE Power, and The University of Warwick’s Warwick Manufacturing Group, the project aims to develop and apply solid-state battery technology for use in passenger vehicles.

The project set out to showcase the ability of solid-state batteries in yielding improvements across efficiency, range, charging time, and cost, and successfully identified how to maximise the benefits of this technology whilst mitigating challenges such as temperature and resistance.

Another successfully funded project is project SOLBAT, carried out with partners; the University of Oxford, University College London, the University of Liverpool, the University of Sheffield, and the University of Warwick. 

The ambition of the project is to demonstrate the feasibility of a solid-state battery with a performance greater than that of a lithium-ion battery. 

Organised around four key research areas, including anodes, cathodes, discovery and modelling and manufacturing, the project aims to accelerate the efforts to commercialise solid-state batteries whilst addressing the current research challenges surrounding this technology.

Sodium-ion batteries, an emerging battery technology that may potentially be able to provide several functionality advantages over lithium-ion batteries, have also been heavily invested in through UKRI funding

Project NEXTGENNA, carried out with partners including the University of St Andrews, the University of Cambridge, University College London, Lancaster University, and the University of Sheffield, looks to improve the energy storage, power, and lifetime of sodium cells, while prioritising safety and cost efficiency.

Alongside these performance improvements, the multidisciplinary approach of the project also focuses on the scale-up and manufacture of these cells, promoting widespread commercialisation of sodium-ion technologies.

By working closely with industry partners, by September 2023, the team aim to improve the state-of-the-art cells produced by delivering a novel medium power or energy pouch-cell design. 

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