Chemical engineer wins European grant for next generation battery research

Dr Qilei Song won an ERC Starting Grant in 2019
Dr Qilei Song won an ERC Starting Grant in 2019
A Chemical engineer has won a European Research Council Proof of Concept grant to scale-up new technology for redox flow batteries.

Redox flow batteries are an electrochemical energy storage device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy and are

often used in

large scale energy storage.

""To accelerate the development of renewable energy we need to develop large scale energy storage technologies."

Dr Qilei Song

Department of Chemical Engineering

Electrochemical energy storage and conversion technologies play a significant role in the storage of energy produced by renewables such as wind and solar, as well as in the generation and utilisation of clean energy carriers, such as hydrogen.

A typical flow battery consists of two tanks of electrolytes which are pumped past a membrane held between two electrodes. The membrane separator allows ions to transport between the tanks while preventing the cross-mixing of the electrolyte solutions.

One of the current challenges for industry is designing, developing and manufacturing the membranes for these batteries in a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way, while ensuring the efficiency of the batteries. In fact, the membranes in some cases make up to 40% of the cost of the batteries.

Large scale energy storage technologies

Dr Qilei Song , a Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in the Department of Chemical Engineering, will use the funding to develop new ion-selective membranes, enabling more efficient batteries, and will explore potential pathways to commercialise the technology.

Dr Song said: "To accelerate the development of renewable energy we need to develop large scale energy storage technologies. This project is great recognition of my team’s efforts, despite the disruption of the pandemic, and it will support us to move forward to further develop the technologies and explore the potential of commercialisation."

In 2019, Dr Song won a 1.5 Million ERC Starting grant, which the team used to develop highly conductive and selective membranes and successfully demonstrated their promising performance in lab-scale flow battery cells.

Now this new proof-of-concept grant award - worth 150,000 over 18 months - will support them to scale up the synthesis and manufacturing of polymer membranes, verify their feasibility in relatively large battery stacks and explore potential for use in industry.

Dr Song added: "Redox flow batteries are a promising method for large scale energy storage - such as storing energy from renewable sources and integrating it into power grids.

"However, the existing systems we use to do this in flow batteries are usually expensive, and their manufacturing can also cause environmental pollution. My new proof-of-concept grant aims to address this big question by developing low-cost membranes that provide better performance, and can be manufactured more sustainably."

Dr Anqi Wang , a postdoctoral researcher on the team, has been working on the development of innovative flow battery membranes, which have been supported by the ERC Starting Grant throughout both his PhD and postdoctoral research. Dr Wang will be involved in the scaling up and manufacturing of the membranes.

The team are collaborating with academics at the University of Edinburgh, University of York and Swansea University, as well as industry partners in the UK and Europe.