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.


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Brugge R (2019) Germanium as a donor dopant in garnet electrolytes in Solid State Ionics

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Hadden J (2019) Examining the charging behaviour of nickel hydroxide nanomaterials in Electrochemistry Communications

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 was also 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, leading to a purchase of equipment funded by the department of in-situ sample holders (~£250k). 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. Further applications have also resulted more recently with a successful application to the recent hydrogen call from EPSRC and partnership developed with Ceres Power resulting in the award of a RAEng Research Chair to Professor Skinner. This has led to further work on understanding the surface chemistry of electrochemical systems, such as in solid oxide cells, with work carried out by Dr Seymour and Dr Williams leading to new understanding of surface potential. We have also applied some of these modelling techniques to the understanding of Na transport in solid state sodium based batteries. This allowed new insights into the plating and stripping behaviour of NASICON based technologies in-situ.
Exploitation Route The initial work on nanoparticle exsolution and in-situ monitoring is of topical interest and is currently being used to support the work of a range of PDRA and PhD researchers within the group. The challenges of these measurement have also led to the investment by the Department of Materials in new equipment to ensure these features can be identified by electron microscopy. This new equipment procurement will be available across the research community at Imperial, and more broadly across the UK through the links with the Royce Institute.
Sectors Education,Energy,Environment

Description The major non-academic 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. Several publications have been communicated and our staff will continue to communicate their results through forthcoming meetings. The electron microscopy and secondary ion mass spectrometry support has been of enormous value in supporting the training of multiple researchers. This includes in the preparation of future funding applications, particularly for independent fellowships. Our work has also resulted in a successful case being made to the institution for investment in new equipment with a commitment of over £160k being made. One of the researchers supported by this award has secured a position at University of Tartu as an Associate Professor, whilst we have also been able to develop a project with the Diamond Light Source to develop out knowledge of surface chemistry under challenging operational conditions. Staff employed on this award have also successfully secured research funding for Marie Curie fellowships and further employment in a range of roles.
Sector Education,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description (EPISTORE) - Thin Film Reversible Solid Oxide Cells for Ultracompact Electrical Energy Storage
Amount € 4,599,129 (EUR)
Funding ID 101017709 
Organisation European Commission 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 01/2021 
End 12/2024
Amount € 3,999,871 (EUR)
Funding ID 952184 
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 11/2020 
End 10/2024
Description Electrosynthetic approaches to hydrogen production for a net zero future encompassing new materials paradigms
Amount £252,385 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/W033208/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2022 
End 03/2024
Description Investigating Ion Transport in Oxide Thin Films for Energy Applications
Amount £23,140 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/X005011/1 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2022 
End 09/2023
Description RAEng Research Chair Support
Amount £1,500,000 (GBP)
Organisation Ceres Power 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2020 
End 03/2025
Description Research Chair
Amount £255,000 (GBP)
Funding ID RCSRF2021\1243 
Organisation Royal Academy of Engineering 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2026
Description Diamond Light Source 
Organisation Diamond Light Source
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution This collaboration brings together Diamond Light Source and Imperial College in offering a joint postdoctoral research opportunity to further investigate surface structure of functional oxide materials. This position will run for two years, and with the support of Diamond, run beyond the end of the current grant. This will allow maximum value to be obtained from the research outputs and previously collected data.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborating partner, Diamond Light Source Ltd, will be directly funding a PDRA position for a full 12 month period, augmenting the current award. They will bring expertise in data processing and analysis of truncation rod data, allowing detailed surface structure analysis to be undertaken.
Impact Just initiated, hence no outcomes to report.
Start Year 2021
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