Allan Paterson, Head of Programme Management, outlines how the efforts of our research community during lockdown to maintain momentum. From this experience our community has been able to build resilience into new working practices. The update contains other news from around the projects.
It has been a testament to the forethought and quick response by our research community that our projects and researchers have been productively deployed during the time that most university labs have been shut. From all parts of our community, a lot of good work has been done evaluating the projects, developing technical and scientific road maps, analysing existing datasets, writing up the backlog of results into papers, conducting literature and IP reviews, identifying state-of-the-art technology, formulating professional development plans and accessing continuing professional development opportunities.
While many labs across the UK were shuttered during lockdown, not all were closed. At Imperial College London, the university allowed only 70 individuals on site – including COVID-19 researchers, security, and essential operations personnel. Of those 70, 5 from Greg Offer’s team were allowed to run long-term experimental work by having high quality plans in place early – in the weeks before lockdown hit. Other university labs and groups worked incredibly hard to ensure their labs were among the early pilots for reopening – such as at Sheffield, UCL and Oxford.
Although causing disruption to experimental progress, the duration of lockdown has enabled a refocus and prioritisation as labs reopen for work. There is a hope that as labs restart and learn from one another, the reprioritisation exercise may enable the projects to remain relatively on track to meet original expectations. Further, as we become a more resilient research community, should we experience another disruption due to COVID-19, we will be more prepared. Efforts are underway to assess how different ways of working, adopted now, will build resilience into our research projects to absorb future shocks. Please continue to work on this in your projects and continue to share best practice with one another.
As Greg Offer said repeatedly in the recent Masterclass on returning to labs,“hope for the best and prepare for the worst". Links to Masterclass recordings can be found here.
In other news from around the projects:
High performance computing
The final software integration of the upgrade to the Faraday Institution’s supercomputer Michael was made during the COVID-19 lockdown, when the boost in capacity enabled the Faraday Institution’s modelling and computational chemistry activities to proceed at pace while researchers were working at home. Our thanks to David Scanlon, Professor of Computational Materials Design and Faraday Institution researcher at UCL, and Dr Owain Kenway, Head of Research Computing and his group at UCL for enabling this to happen.
Since it was first installed, 57 researchers from six Faraday Institution projects have run over 180,000 jobs on the supercomputer, accessing the facility from University College London, the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Lancaster, Liverpool and Southampton and Imperial College London. The computing capacity is a game changer for the speed with which our researchers on the multi-scale modelling project and computational chemistry work packages of 5 other projects can carry out their research.
Although the upgrade to Michael itself went smoothly, as some of you may be aware, several UK supercomputing facilities were hit with a cyber security issue in May. Michael was affected by this attack that took the capability off-line. Further issues on re-start have hindered computational chemistry and modelling studies for a few weeks. Although back online now, the Faraday Institution, UKRI and UCL are discussing options to potentially mitigate some of the lost time (although this may be challenging), as well as ensure stable capability going forward. We will update the projects in due course.
Industry sprints and Characterisation projects
Understandably given the situation, progress has been limited in these projects, as they are largely lab based.
However, a level of collation and processing of existing data has taken place resulting in reports that have proven extremely useful. Alongside this, there has been significant activity in the background to work up one of the industry sprints into a larger project with the potential to deliver some significant benefit to the UK, alongside some of the largest UK engineering firms.
We were also pleased to announce a fourth industry sprint project has joined the group – TOPBAT – which is discussed elsewhere in this newsletter.
Congratulations to Yan Zhao, co-founder of Faraday Institution Entrepreneurial Fellow Breathe Battery Technologies who was awarded a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellowship to support the company in its further development of advanced battery management algorithms. Well deserved.
During the period of restricted laboratory access ReLiB researchers have focused on the completion of publications and the development of a patent application. The project has been able to support training activities through seven FUSE internships funded by the Faraday Institution and three other Summer School Internships focusing on automated disassembly activities that have been funded by Direct Line Insurance Group.
Despite the issues surrounding work during the Covid-19 restrictions we have been able to complete the installation of battery storage and battery testing (EUCAR 7 rated) units at the University of Birmingham. Installation involved securing exemption from the need to quarantine for the five-man team from Finland! Preliminary tests will be commenced in August after the surfacing and fencing of the area has been completed.
On the right is a photo of the team from Proventia after completing the installation.
This is a view inside the test chamber showing the working area.
The installation of the industrial robots in a collaborative array of robots at Tyseley Energy Park, which will be used to demonstrate automated disassembly operations on EV batteries, was also completed in July and will be ready for development work in August.
In an initiative lead by Newcastle-based ReLiB Faraday Institution Research Fellow, Mohammad Rajaeifar, Resources, Conservation and Recycling is preparing a Special Issue Sustainable supply and value chains of electric vehicle batteries. Papers are due October 30th. We would encourage submissions.
Congratulations to Greg Offer and the Electrochemical Science and Engineering Group at Imperial for their comment piece published in Nature on the new Cell Cooling Coefficient metric and how it will help designers evaluate trade-offs between thermal management and energy density. The team has produced an animation explaining how.
Jacqueline Edge writes:
We have launched four review papers, with subgroups who are actively progressing these and now meeting regularly to decide the structure and narrative. We have been in touch with the IOP journal, “Progress in energy”, who are keen to run a virtual special issue on battery/multiscale modelling and we would like to encourage other Faraday Institution projects to submit reviews to this, if they do any modelling.
We also have a fortnightly hotline, which is an hour of discussion around a cross-cutting theme. This has been surprisingly successful and well attended and we are very happy to invite the other projects to join us, on topics that interest them too. The aim is for it to encourage more debate than presentations, but there is usually a brief presentation at the start, to get the discussion going.
The Multi-scale Modelling Project’s software platform, PyBaMM, has recently been accepted as a NumFOCUS-affiliated project. NumFOCUS is a non-profit organisation promoting accessible and reproducible scientific and technical computing. NumFOCUS Affiliated Projects are scientifically oriented, open, and kind. Being part of their community gives the project team (Valentin Sulzer, Scott Marquis, Robert Timms, Martin Robinson, Ferran Brosa Planella, Thibault Lestang, Thomas Tranter) a much broader reach and allows the team to apply for small development grants and submit a project for future Google Summer of Code events, in which students are sponsored to work full-time for 3 months on open source projects.
The University of St Andrews has issued a tender for its new battery scale-up facility. A purpose-built dry room will house a roll-to-roll coater as well as a suite of pouch cell manufacturing equipment. The facility, which will come on-line in 2021, will enable NEXGENNA to greatly expand its scale-up programme.
The facility is part of the centre for Generation, Storage, Innovation and Sustainability (GENESIS) and provides a place for industry and academia to collaborate. By offering facilities beyond the reach of many companies, it enables the transition of the latest science to application. The centre complements the existing world-leading materials characterisation facilities at St Andrews. The project won funding from the Scottish Government's Advanced Manufacturing Challenge Fund.
On the right is the construction of the University of St Andrews' Eden Campus at Guardbridge. The campus includes the centre for Generation, Storage, Innovation and Sustainability (GENESIS).
During the period of laboratory closure, the Nextrode team was busy working on a range of tasks and preparing for when laboratories begin to reopen - as they are now doing. One important task has been to review the project plan with each work package team to identify what can be brought forward, what has to be delayed and which PDRA will lead on which tasks. A number of new PDRAs joined the Nextrode team during lockdown. We’ve made a point to ensure that they feel part of the team while working remotely, and the work package reviews have helped with this.
Good progress has been made on all work packages, but we would like to highlight progress on WP0 - “Setting the Baseline”, which involves all partners and PDRAs. Material purchase has been almost completed; pouch cell test jigs have been made; and standard operating procedures for every aspect of pouch cell fabrication have been drafted. This puts us in a good position once laboratories are fully open. In addition, literature reviews are ongoing, and it is anticipated that as a result of this activity a number of papers will be published. But probably more important is the fact that our subsequent experiments will be better designed and targeted.
Finally, during the lockdown period the Nextrode website was launched.
Researchers in Clare Grey’s group working on the degradation project have invented, and patented, a technique to deploy Raman spectroscopy while a battery is in operation, which is helping researchers to understand the degradation mechanisms that occur in batteries. Microlitre volumes (<25µl) of electrolyte can be sampled continuously and probed using Raman spectroscopy, using commercially available fibre optics. Cambridge Enterprise is now looking for an instrumentation partner with which to partner to jointly develop and commercialise this technology.
All members of the Degradation consortium have risen to the challenge of the past four months and taken the opportunity in lockdown to review data, write papers and undertake training. We hosted two half-day virtual consortium meetings in early July to give everyone the chance to get together to discuss their progress on the project. There was a high level of engagement with all the speakers; the technology helped the flow of ideas with active relevant discussions in the chat area concurrent with the speakers. Great conversations were started and continued outside the meeting. Over the past month or so, some (but by no means all) departments across the various universities have begun returning to their labs. This is taking shape in a variety of ways, including limited occupancy of labs and hours each day or alternating weeks in the lab.
At the start of July, we have welcomed a diverse group of five virtual interns for an eight-week summer internship. Their supervisors and the Faraday Institution are working to ensure they get the benefits of being part of the cohort despite the distance (one is currently in Australia!).
While the widespread lab shutdown halted experimental work across the LiSTAR programme we ensured the team remained connected through a number of weekly seminars and a Journal Club. These included a PDRA-led series in which the researchers detailed complex or unique areas of their work to enable improved collaboration across the project alongside Co-I delivered lectures highlighting their research interests. We have also submitted the ‘2020 Lithium Sulfur Roadmap’ to the Journal of Physics Energy, which involved 44 of our academic and industrial partners and provided a forward looking review of 18 specific areas of Li-S research spanning length scales from atomistic modelling to cell and device engineering. Alongside this we recently contributed to the 8th Faraday Insight highlighting the potential for the UK to lead in Li-S technology in the future.
All of the experimental researchers have now returned to the labs and over the coming months we are looking forward to seeing the results of the detailed planning that has been put in place. One of the early outputs of lab reopening has been the filming of a training video outlining the specific processes for manufacturing a Li-S coin cell, which has been developed in lieu of a planned physical training session. This research will also benefit from the standardisation of protocols that was conducted earlier in the project. The lockdown has also provided some time to collate early results and we were delighted to have a number of publications associated with LiSTAR published in the last month with several others coming soon! The lockdown has also enabled several of our early career PDRAs to complete their vivas – congratulations to Drs Conrad, Nive and Liam!
FutureCat has maintained a positive communications process during the lockdown period, with operations and work package meetings continuing online. Research activities have continued, including computational work to identify new target materials, refinement of the modelling process, data analysis and the development of two invited review articles across the consortium. Discussions with our industry partners on the provision of materials, supply chain analysis and placements for researchers have taken place, with more discussions to follow.
Labs are now reopening, and the Faraday Institution projects are high on the Sheffield priority list for access.
CATMAT researchers on ‘Materials Discovery & Synthesis’ and ‘Coatings, scale up & cell design’ work packages have been collaborating around best manufacture methods and strategies to improve surface stabilisation for Ni-rich and O-redox cathode materials.
CATMAT researchers in have been working on a range of reviews including:
- Earth abundant cathodes, including their recycling (linking with ReLiB project, Birmingham).
- Reporting the oxygen redox process of LR-NMC (Oxford).
- State-of-the-art Li-rich disordered rock salt and sulfide cathode materials (Liverpool).
- In-situ synchrotron X-ray diffraction characterisation of Li-ion battery (UCL).
Lizzie Driscoll (PhD Researcher, Birmingham) has produced a range of videos outlining activities using Jenga to explain Li-ion batteries and their operation. She participated in the CoCoMad virtual science festival, aimed at school children from low income backgrounds, and distributed experiment boxes to schools.
CATMAT Professors Peter Bruce (Oxford) and Clare Grey (Cambridge) spoke at the Storagex International Webinar (Stanford, US). Saiful Islam (PI), Paul Shearing (UCL) and Clare Grey (Cambridge) presented FI Masterclass online talks.
We held a full consortium meeting in early July to refocus work plans as labs reopen. This included PDRAs, FUSE interns and the PhDs Researchers starting in October.
We received over a hundred applications for five places under the virtual FUSE summer internship scheme.