Synthomer, a global producer of specialty polymer dispersions - and its partners have together been awarded £7million in Innovate UK funding for a project to develop significantly better materials for Li-ion batteries. The work is an essential step to achieving electric vehicles (EVs) with a range of 400 miles and above.
The project, named SUNRISE (after Synthomer, UCL & Nexeon’s Rapid Improvement in the Storage of Energy), will develop better battery materials based on silicon as a replacement for carbon in the cell anode, and optimise cell designs for automotive application.
Innovate UK will fund the majority of the £10million project as part of a Faraday Challenge. SUNRISE will also enhance the UK’s position as a centre of excellence for battery development, and support the materials manufacturing supply chain in the UK.
Nexeon will lead the silicon material development and scale-up stages of the SUNRISE project, while Synthomer will lead the development of a next generation polymer binder optimised to work with silicon, and ensure anode/binder cohesion during a lifetime of charges. Nexeon and University College London (UCL) will jointly lead the work on material characterisation and cell performance.
Silicon is currently being adopted as a partial replacement for carbon in battery anodes, typically up to the level of 10% replacement, but problems caused by expansion when the cells are charged and discharged remain a hurdle. Project SUNRISE addresses the silicon expansion and binder system issues, and allows more silicon to be used, further increasing the energy density that can be achieved in the cell. Innovative silicon anode material with a polymer binder represents a ‘drop-in’ replacement for current graphite anode systems. Lower cost and better performance power sources reduce the time required for EVs to achieve mass adoption.
“The challenges in developing the next generation of range enabling EV battery technology creates new opportunities for partners in the material supply chain”, says Dr. Robin Harrison, Synthomer’s Global Innovation Director. “Synthomer is pleased to build upon its existing experience in battery binder systems in order to realise the revolutionary potential in the SUNRISE silicon anode.”
“The biggest problems facing EVs - range anxiety, cost, charge time or charging station availability - are almost all related to limitations of the batteries”, says Nexeon CEO, Dr. Scott Brown. “Silicon anodes are now well established on the technology road maps of major automotive OEMs and cell makers, and Nexeon has received support from UK and global OEMs, several of whom will be involved in this project as it develops.”
Dr. Paul Shearing, Reader in Chemical Engineering at UCL adds: “We are delighted to be working on this project, which is so important for the future development of battery electric vehicles, and leverages the unique facilities at UCL in partnership with Nexeon and Synthomer to deliver real world research impact.”
Ruth McKernan, Innovate UK Chief Executive, said: “The Faraday Battery Challenge is breaking new ground because it offers for the first time a co-ordinated programme of competitions across research, innovation and scale-up. It will therefore draw the very best of the UK’s world-leading research into commercial technologies and put UK businesses at the forefront of electric vehicle battery development.”
The Faraday Battery Challenge was announced in July, and is the first in a series of Research Challenges managed by Innovate UK as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The Faraday Battery Challenge is an investment of £246m over four years to help UK businesses seize the opportunities presented by the transition to a low carbon economy, to ensure the UK leads the world in the design, development and manufacture of batteries for electric vehicles. Success in creating a viable battery supply chain will lead to the creation of hundreds of UK jobs, according to Innovate UK.
Synthomer develops and markets polymers used in a wide range of industries to create and enhance everyday consumer products. It holds leading positions in its chosen markets and has a proven record to generate added value to its customers through in-depth application know-how and strong R&D support. Synthomer is one of the world’s major suppliers of latices and speciality polymers supporting leadership positions in many market segments. It uses its technical expertise and R&D capability to deliver competitive advantage by helping customers to create successful products and to improve the efficiency of their manufacturing operations.
Nexeon Ltd. (‘Nexeon’) is a battery materials company developing and producing silicon materials for the next generation of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Nexeon scientists have shown that producing silicon with particular morphologies makes it possible to use it as the battery anode material, and to develop batteries with significant performance advantages over their traditional equivalents.
Nexeon is based in Oxfordshire, and has established a manufacturing facility capable of producing 20 tonnes of material per year. Nexeon also runs a fully instrumented pilot plant, allowing an accurate understanding of the processes and costs associated with making anode materials. The technology has been conceived with a ‘drop in’ approach, requiring the minimum of changes to an existing Li-ion battery manufacturing operation.
Nexeon views the automotive and consumer electronics sectors as early targets for its technology, and has established relationships with global manufacturers in these sectors.
About UCL (University College London)
UCL was founded in 1826. It was the first English university established after Oxford and Cambridge, the first to open up university education to those previously excluded from it, and the first to provide systematic teaching of law, architecture and medicine. It is among the world's top universities, as reflected by performance in a range of international rankings and tables. UCL currently has over 39,000 students from 150 countries and over 12,500 staff. Its annual income is more than £1 billion.