Understanding the critical role of interfaces and surfaces in energy materials

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Materials


'Energy materials' encompass a wide range of technologies, ranging from thermoelectrics to fuel cells, batteries, photovoltaics and magnetocalorics, among others. Many of these energy materials are developed as multi-component solid state devices and these devices inherently possess a number of electrochemically active interfaces. It is these interfaces, e.g. solid/solid, liquid/solid or gas/solid, that control the function of the device, and are typically the source of degradation. Many current techniques used to analyse these devices and their components rely on idealised systems in high vacuum environments to gain information on the near surface chemistry. This necessitates the use of post-mortem operation analysis and clearly represents a significant mismatch from the conditions under which devices operate. Increasingly it is acknowledged that in-operando measurements are required, but that the measurements are themselves difficult and demanding. It is our intention to develop expertise with in-operando characterisation of energy materials. This will build on our existing expertise and capability in surface analysis and in-situ measurements. As an example, a fuel cell operating at 823K will be subjected to temperature gradients, cation segregation, potential gradients, poisoning and chemical changes induced by these conditions, all of which are inter-related, but separating the individual contributions has so far proved impossible. Similar issues involving the interface and surface chemistry of solid state batteries, permeation membranes and co-electrolysers will also be addressed using these techniques. By developing in-operando correlative characterisation we aim to deconvolute these processes and provide detailed mechanistic understating of the critical processes in a range of energy systems.

Planned Impact

The work that is proposed in this platform grant application is likely to have significant commercial impact and we will ensure that the necessary intellectual property (IP) is protected, with patents filed through the technology transfer office at Imperial College (Imperial Innovations). Imperial Innovations have considerable experience across many technology sectors including in the broad field of energy technologies and are fully prepared to exploit any results, either through licencing or through the founding of a spin out company.

It is likely that results of this research programme will be applied to other technology sectors particularly where in-operando and/or in-situ characterisation and testing would be of benefit, such as in sensors, supercapacitors and others. As we extend our interests to metal air batteries our research will impact the portable and automotive power sectors amongst others. These potential further applications will be explored during the period of platform funding, building on the expertise available within the wider energy programme at both Imperial. As our expertise grows we will engage new partners, nationally and internationally, to ensure that our advances in this area are more broadly exploited.

We will also generate data and outputs that will benefit the UK and international academic community, with many groups likely to benefit, including those active in energy materials research at, for example, Liverpool, Manchester, UCL, St Andrews, Durham, Glasgow, Oxford, Cambridge etc. We will actively disseminate our work to colleagues in the Sir Henry Royce Institute, and the BP- International Centre for Advanced Materials. In order to communicate effectively we will host workshops at Imperial inviting key stakeholders to attend where we will discuss our latest advances, and provide open data, where appropriate, hosted through institutional repositories, to ensure our work reaches the widest cross section of potential users.

Perhaps one of the most important features and measures of impact will be the training of a large number of highly qualified personnel. We have named several current postdoctoral researchers who we envisage will, during the 5 year period of this support, develop fellowship applications and take up faculty positions either in the UK or further afield. This is a key strength of our application as we have a successful track record of nurturing talented researchers and ensuring that they progress to full careers, either in academia or in industry. This is illustrated by the team assembled for this application, with experience ranging from newly appointed lecturers to established professors. We will also recruit as yet unidentified researchers to provide expertise in new research areas, will host visiting researchers and will collaborate widely, ensuring dissemination of our research results internationally.
Description Our researchers are developing understanding of a range of materials for use in energy devices such as batteries and fuel cells. These are combining experimental and theoretical studies, and have led to the preparation of a new funding application led by Drs Lischner, Payne and Kahk. Funding application was unfortunately unsuccessful, but a new application led by Dr Lischner in collaboration with Dr Regoutz at UCL has been submitted. Initial studies by Dr Cali have identified challenges presented through in-situ transmission electron microscopy, and has led to further researcher programmes and engagement with instrument suppliers. These measurements are associated with observing nanoparticle growth in-situ at temperatures of up to 873K and in correlating their surface structure with ex-situ electrochemical performance.
Exploitation Route It is relatively early in the grant to quantify this.
Sectors Education,Energy,Environment

Description The major impact of this award to date is in the training and retention of skills and in the development of new proposals and proof-of-principle studies. Initial publications have been communicated and our staff will be communicating their results through forthcoming meetings.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description International Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An international conference jointly organised with an EU programme and the EPSRC funded platform grant was held at the Royal Society in London from 10-11th March 2020. Participants included consortium members and practioners from around Europe. Activity was aimed at dissemination of the recent results to the research community whilst also giving early career researchers the opportunity to network. Sponsorship of early career presentation prizes was secured from the Royal Society of Chemistry and Elsevier.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/engineering/materials/eventssummary/ev...
Description Invited Talk - CIMTEC 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited talk entitled "Development and in-situ characterisation of fast ion conductors for SOFCs" at International conference.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018