Neil Morris, CEO, highlights the need for us to define what success looks like as an important step in our quest to build a better battery.
It has been a particularly busy and impactful few months for the Faraday Institution. Most significantly, we are about to launch five major new research projects. Congratulations to the many new members of the Faraday Institution community that played a part in constructing the winning bids. We appreciate that bidding for and setting up new projects takes a considerable amount of work at the project level, by researchers, project managers, and contract and admin staff, and we greatly value this effort.
The Faraday Institution is pursuing a portfolio of research projects aimed at delivering significant improvements in different battery technologies over a range of timescales. In the near term, accelerating the drive towards EVs requires the optimisation of lithium-ion battery technology, and with the Nextrode electrode fabrication project, and the FutureCat and CATMAT projects researching next-generation cathode materials we now have six research teams looking to optimise this technology.
While there is still room for improvements to Li-ion, there are fundamental limits to the performance gains that can be expected from its deployment. So, in the medium to long term, step changes in EV cost, range and safety will have to rely on the commercialisation of new battery chemistries such as sodium ion, lithium-sulfur and solid-state batteries. We welcome new researchers from the NEXGENNA and LiSTAR projects who will be striving to make breakthroughs in the first and second of these areas. The Faraday Institution is looking beyond Li-ion to deliver the required knowledge base to UK industry that could position the country as an international hub for these potential new battery industries.
Nearly two years into our programmes the Faraday Institution has made considerable impact, not just in research but in capability building and in our important role of providing impartial independent advice to government, the auto industry and other stakeholders. And with discussions ongoing about the funding of the Faraday Institution beyond March 2021, we need to deliver breakthroughs in scientific understanding that can be transferred to industrial partners with the aim of commercialising a better battery in the years to come.
An ongoing theme of conversations we are having with the leads of our projects – new and old – is defining (and quantifying where possible) what success looks like. These are active conversations, and if you don’t hear about success metrics from your project leads in the next two months, ask them to tell you what has been agreed.
For many of our projects our definition of full success will be a “product” that has the potential to revolutionise the battery industry over a defined timescale. In many cases this “product” will need to be a lab-scale cell with significantly improved performance versus currently available technology (for example, energy density, safety or degradation) that has no features that would plausibly prevent it being mass-manufactured and economically competitive with a lithium-ion battery.
Success could also be improvements in performance at the pack level through better battery management systems or processes to recover materials from used cells for reuse in battery manufacturing.
Once these definitions of success are defined, we need to balance having a laser focus on achieving them while ensuring enough time and space is given to develop and nurture our early career researchers to equip them with the skills and experience that will allow them to deliver the breakthroughs of the future.
Shifting our collective mindset from “where could my research lead?” to “what is the long-term aim of research in my area, what knowledge gaps need to be filled most urgently, and what is the most promising way of achieving that?” will be a challenging but necessary cultural change. I’ll talk more about this theme at our Faraday Institution Conference and Review Meeting on the 19th-20th November, which promises to be the biggest and most collaborative yet. I look forward to talking with many of you there.