£10m boost for UK battery materials

March 30, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
£10m boost for UK battery materials
The UK government is pumping £30m (€35m) into battery and electric vehicle materials research with a range of projects that includes sourcing lithium in Cornwall.

The additional cash of £9.4m is for 22 studies, including proposals to build a plant in Cornwall that will extract lithium for use in electric vehicle batteries, a plant to build specialised magnets for electric vehicle motors in Cheshire and lightweight hydrogen storage for cars and vans in Loughborough.

These battery materials projects will be run by the Advanced Propulsion Centre in Coventry, which has already funded 150 low-carbon projects involving 375 partners.

The Faraday Institution is also providing £22.6m (€26.5m) for commercialising its battery research. 

“We have set an ambitious target to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. To support that it is crucial we invest in research so we can power ahead with the shift to electric vehicles as we build back greener from the pandemic,” said Gerry Grimstone, UK Minister for Investment. “The research announced today will support all stages of the automotive supply chain to make the switch to electric vehicles - from developing batteries, to exploring how to recycle them."

The Trelavour Hard Rock Lithium Scoping Study in Cornwall for Cornish Lithium will assess the feasibility of developing a sustainable UK supply chain through the construction of an extraction plant that will produce low-carbon lithium hydroxide from a hard rock source in St Austell. British Lithium has already demonstrated that producing lithium in Cornwall would be viable.

Less Common Metals (LCM) is developing a new UK magnet plant in Cheshire. The study has identified a promising approach to create a plant that will produce high-quality lightweight magnets for motors in electric vehicles. The LCM processes are focussed around vacuum induction melting of alloys. These materials vary from powders, through cast alloy ingots and cast shapes to rapidly cooled flake generated by strip casting and all include rare earth and non-rare earth containing alloys.

Another project with Haydale Composites Solutions in Loughborough is looking at lightweight, low permeability storage tanks for hydrogen vehicles.

The Faraday institution will continue several projects on battery safety, solid state materials and recycling and reuse of battery materials. It will also examine the use of batteries on the energy grid and for aerospace as it looks to commercialise the research.

The extending battery life project is led by Prof Clare Grey, University of Cambridge, with researchers from the Universities of Birmingham, Liverpool, Oxford, Sheffield, Southampton, Warwick, Imperial College London and UCL.

Battery modelling is led by Dr Gregory Offer, Imperial College London, with researchers from the Universities of Bath, Birmingham, Lancaster, Oxford, Portsmouth, Southampton, Warwick and UCL

Recyling and reuse (ReLiB) is led by Dr Paul Anderson, University of Birmingham, with researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh, Leicester, Newcastle and UCL.

The solid-state batteries (SOLBAT) project is led by Prof Peter Bruce, University of Oxford, with researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Sheffield, Warwick and UCL

Battery safety (SafeBatt) is led by Prof Paul Shearing of UCL, with researchers from the Universities of Cambridge, Newcastle, Sheffield, Warwick, Imperial College London and UCL. Safety control and countermeasures are built into the design of today's Li-ion battery systems, but this adds complexity, cost and weight. As the use of Li-ion batteries expands into automotive, stationary storage, aerospace and other sectors there is a need to decrease the risks associated with battery usage further, and to enable the simplification of safety systems.

The Faraday Institution’s SafeBatt project will advance these aims by taking an integrated approach to understanding the “science of battery safety” at multiple scales, from materials development and cell degradation to a battery systems level, integrating safety considerations through the lifetime of the battery.

The team will improve the fundamental understanding of the root causes of cell failure and the underlying physics governing failure propagation that can lead to fires. It will also investigate the environmental consequences of fires involving lithium-ion batteries, inform the further development of fire sensing and protection systems for warehouse storage and battery energy storage systems and help develop a consensus around the optimal method of fighting lithium-ion battery fires.

The reshaping of the projects was a complex process that involved senior researchers, industry experts, EPSRC, and a panel of internationally recognised independent experts. Focus was placed on how best to strengthen the UK’s position in electrochemical energy storage research and make UK industry more competitive, building on the foundations of the three years of investigation already performed.

Research in these five areas will progress over the next two years to 31 March 2023, subject to funding renewal of the Faraday Institution itself beyond March 2022.

www.cornishlithium.com; www.apc.org.uk; www.faraday.ac.uk; www.ledsscommonmetals.com

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