Novel Manufacturing for Resource Efficient Electrochemical Storage (NoRESt)

Lead Research Organisation: Swansea University
Department Name: School of Engineering

Abstract

With an increasing level of renewable electricity generation there is a requirement for electro-chemical storage incorporated into the grid to minimise costs and decrease the amount of fossil fuels needed to balance electricity supply and demand. Currently lithium ion batteries, which have been designed for portable applications have not been optimised for fixed applications where weight and density of the battery are not as critical as cost effective storage.

The NoRESt fellowship is based at Swansea University leading a team working on new manufacturing processes for energy storage applications, within the Materials Engineering department. Swansea University is undertaking internationally leading research within the field of processing of materials for energy application through the SPECIFIC IKC.

The NoRESt fellowship will develop novel processing methods for the production of solid state batteries, for the application of fixed energy storage, to improve their energy storage performance by reducing inter-facial resistances. This will be achieved by developing active solid electrolyte pastes which can be printed and co-sintered onto the battery anodes. Prior efforts in this field have primarily focused on new chemistry for the active battery components rather than processing methods. By combining new chemistry with novel processing this fellowship will take advantage of advances in the field of solid state printed photovoltaics and apply them to the field of electro-chemical storage.

Solid state sodium batteries will have the following advantages over liquid lithium ion batteries:
- Lower cost
- No cobalt or lithium used in manufacture - reducing reliance on single production locations
- Reduced environmental impact of the battery production.
- Lower recycling costs
- Reduced fire risks (during waste processing and in use)

By supporting a greater proportion of renewable electricity generations fixed storage batteries will reduce energy costs and help to meet the UK targets for limiting the catastrophic affects of climate change. This research will support complementary research in battery chemistry by providing an alternative architecture and method of manufacture. The environmental cost of production will also be analysed during this fellowship, ensuring that energy storage is developed with the smallest environmental footprint possible, with materials and processes with high environmental impact highlighted for further research to develop alternatives. Alongside materials manufacture and processing end of life will be considered in order to understand and mitigate early in the development process the impacts of end of life.

Alongside developing novel processing methods the environmental, cost and performances of these batteries will be bench-marked against current (lithium ion) and other emerging technologies (salt-water batteries, flow cells and modern NiFe). Demonstrators will be manufactured before the end of the fellowship and be tested within zero carbon buildings built as part of the SPECFIC IKC project, this will accelerate the commercialisation of this project.

Planned Impact

Signing up to the Paris agreement and committing to reduce the UK's carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050 will require a huge uptake in renewable energy and this in turn will require electrical storage capacity to manage the variable output from renewable energy. This fellowship will address the issue of electrical storage capacity for grid scale electricity by developing methods to manufacture batteries at a reduced cost and without reliance on critical materials compared with lithium-ion batteries.

This fellowship will generate new processing methods for producing solid state batteries (electro-chemical storage) and assess them for their performance under real world conditions whilst simultaneously quantifying environmental impact of production. It has the ambitious goal to develop a manufacturing process for solid state batteries for domestic and network storage that can be recycled in facilities with low capital cost, whilst improving performance but with reduced environmental impact.

Developing new manufacturing processes and materials for low carbon energy solutions requires simultaneous understanding of the environmental impact of those methods and materials otherwise there is potential for problem shifting of environmental impact during use to environmental impact during production. For example, whilst electric vehicles have positive environment impact during use compared with internal combustion vehicles, for maximum benefit it is important that the environmental cost of production is continually improved. It is also important that the battery is refurbished / re-used or recycled at end of it's first life to support a circular economy model, and support industrial growth within the UK.

This research will have far reaching benefits by reducing the cost and environmental impact of electro-chemical storage. It will enable faster deployment of new storage capacity since the materials required are available more broadly than lithium and cobalt (the key materials in the incumbent electro-chemical storage technology). Unlike fossil fuel electricity generation this electro-chemical storage will be able to respond quickly to increases/ decreases in consumer demand - making the operation of the national grid more efficient (since gas power stations will not be required to run in 'standby mode' anticipating a spike in demand). Increased network storage will allow a much greater penetration of renewable energy into the grid, since onshore wind is the lowest cost of electricity generation in the UK, and offshore wind is reducing in cost annually, this will lead to lower energy costs for UK consumers.

Cheap electro-chemical storage will also benefit de-centralisation of power supply by enabling individuals, community groups and industry to couple renewable energy generation with storage giving price benefits to people who are local to the point of generation, this is particularly important in light of recent discussions by the UK government to remove the export tariff from domestic solar installations. Low cost energy storage will also enable critical users (such as hospitals and industry) to maintain electrical back up without the need for polluting diesel generators.

The benefits to the UK are mirrored for all countries to different extents, low cost electro-chemical storage is particularly beneficial in areas where there is no reliable energy grid. For this reason this fellowship links with a collaboration with India where community solar and micro-grids can reduce the cost and environmental impact of electricity compared with diesel generators which are often used.

Publications

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