Exploiting the anion Chemistry of solids for Future Advanced Functional Materials: Core-to-Core Project on Mixed Anion Research for Energy Conversion

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Chemistry


Solid state compounds form the basis of many key technologies. Many of these are crystalline oxides, similar in concept to the major minerals of the earth, but with compositions chosen by chemists and physicists to dictate features of their crystal structures and electronic or magnetic properties which result in technological importance. E.g. redox-active oxides with mobile Li ions are key to modern battery technologies for mobile communications, oxide ion conductors are important in fuel cell technologies, and high-temperature superconducting copper oxides are being explored for use in MRI magnet systems. Oxides form readily in an oxygen-rich environment, but a whole range of other solid state compounds containing other anions such as sulfide, nitride, chloride, fluoride, phosphide and hydride have promising chemical and physical properties for applications ranging from catalytic materials for important chemical processes to compounds with electronic and magnetic properties complementary to those of oxides. This proposed research and consortium-building project is geared towards the discovery of new multi-anion solids: compounds containing one or more of the metallic elements of the periodic table in combination with two or more anion-forming elements. Examples are oxide sulfides, oxide fluorides and oxide hydrides, and the groups in Oxford Chemistry are world-leading in the synthesis of these solids, and in providing computational analysis to underpin these investigations; the groups in Oxford Physics are expert in the physical characterisation of these compounds using a range of techniques, particularly at the UK's flagship ISIS and Diamond facilities for neutron, muon and X-ray research. The Japanese researchers, led by Kyoto, and the French groups are expert in using complementary techniques for the chemical synthesis of these compounds, including high pressure synthesis. The research will exploit the synergies between groups to discover new compositions of matter and characterise their crystal structures and physical and chemical properties to assess them as possible technological materials for diverse energy conversion applications. The structural complexity of these new compounds, which is often of decisive importance in their exploitation as real-world functional materials requires a wide range of tools for characterisation, and the unrivalled expertise of the Antwerp group in the use of electron microscopy together with the access to Diamond, ESRF, ILL and ISIS will be a key component of the research, feeding in to the synthetic chemistry in Oxford, Japan and France. The work will also be underpinned by computational expertise.
A key part of this project, enabling and strengthening the laboratory research, is networking and consortium building. A large number of Japan-, UK-, France-, Belgium-, and China-based researchers are participating in this project and will participate in exchange visits between laboratories to gain experience in new techniques and to share and transfer knowledge and expertise. There will also be annual all-hands workshops for the consortium members to discuss progress of the research and to plan new research directions and to enable the critical mass of the consortium to best exploit new research opportunities. As part of this activity the researchers at all levels will host and participate in summer schools and the senior members of the team will take part in lecture tours with a view to exploiting synergies with other groups worldwide as well as within the consortium. A key part of the activity will be publication of the results in leading international journals and presenting the work at major international conferences. This activity will further promote the work of the consortium on the global stage and will lead to further research activities, including new research collaborations to create new research directions during and beyond the course of this proposal.

Planned Impact

The following categories will benefit from the research in the ways described.

(i) People. The PDRAs employed on the project and the other separately-funded young researchers participating in the work will be immediate beneficiaries of the project. They will gain expertise in chemical synthesis within the UK and Japanese groups, structural measurements using state-of-the-art international facilities in the UK, Japan, France and Belgium, and physical property measurements using a wide-range of facilities. These diverse experiences will make them very well suited to careers anywhere in the world as academics, researchers at international facilities or innovators in technology companies. Prospective PhD and masters level students and visiting scholars from around the world will also benefit from being attracted to this project. These researchers will also benefit from the consortium and network building activities which will expose them more widely to the international research landscape, give them confidence in interacting with diverse groups and widen their horizons.

(ii) Academic and industrial researchers. These groups have been identified in a separate section of the form. They will benefit from the research outputs during the period of the grant and beyond. The work will generate new knowledge and so beneficiaries of this will be a range of computational, theoretical and experimental scientists in universities and at International facilities and industrial researchers who will use their techniques to explore the new compounds. The eventual impact of this is that some of the compounds, or compounds related to them will be exploited as new technological materials, particularly in the field of energy conversion technologies, some of which may have transformative impacts.

(iii) Society. The aim of performing this research in the under-explored area of multi-anion compounds and their properties is to identify new compounds with a range of physical and chemical properties. This is how new materials for new technological devices are discovered, and society as a whole will benefit from discoveries that lead to the development of new technologies that lead to transformations in energy storage and energy conversion as well as in telecommunications or catalysis. The fundamental work in this research collaboration may lead to some new technological materials, and it may also provide the trigger for another academic or industrial research group to open a new research front which ultimately leads to a new technology. This possibility will be enhanced by the inclusive nature of our consortium-building and networking approach. The ultimate development of new technological materials from this research likely lies beyond the timeframe of the grant itself, but these may ultimately improve sustainability and the quality of life.

(iv) Economy. As with the societal benefits, economic benefits will likely be realised well beyond the course of the grant. If some of the new compounds generated in this research are incorporated into device materials, then the benefits to the economy will come from the global sales of such devices and any gains in efficiencies that are afforded by the devices. This will be particularly true for new materials for energy conversion applications that need to be deployed on a large scale. The level of technological exploitation of the research proposed here is impossible to predict because the properties of the compounds are unknown, and are rather difficult to predict with any certainty. But exploratory research has a strong track record of producing important compounds enabling new technologies and this likelihood will be enhanced by the critical mass of researchers in this consortium and the rapid exchange of ideas that will encourage the opening up of new research fronts within the framework of multi-anion chemistry.


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