Building on the Legacy of Faraday

In a time when science was reserved for the elite, Michael Faraday rose from the working class to become one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century. Brilliant, self-made, and devoted to discovery through experimentation, Faraday invented the electric motor and the electric dynamo, discovered laws governing the new science of electrochemistry (he coined the words anode, cathode, and electrolyte in batteries), and thereby provided the foundation for all of modern electrical sciences. Faraday thought big, pursued practical applications, and – most importantly – shared his results.

More than a century later, The Faraday Institution carries forward his application-inspired spirit. It will become the go-to place in the UK for the research, development, manufacture, and production of new electrical storage technologies in the automotive and other relevant sectors.

Global role of battery research

The time is right for the UK to bring battery research to the forefront of the nation’s modern industrial strategy. Globally, the lithium ion battery has decreased cost and increased energy density faster than anticipated; this has created new energy solutions for personal electronics, transportation, and stationary storage. As the price of energy storage continues to fall, the case for investments in energy storage research in the UK becomes even more compelling. Energy storage is an impactful technology; it has the potential to improve human health across the UK by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and decarbonizing energy.

For the UK to join China, the US, Japan, and Korea in the vanguard of the battery revolution, we must strengthen the pipeline from basic research to industrialization. To do so, battery scientists in our universities need to develop a better understanding of industry’s true needs and develop the capabilities to address them.

Driving battery technologies

The UK’s world-class science indeed has all of the ingredients necessary to create a robust national energy storage programme. This is where The Faraday Institution will be a game-changer. We have assembled experts from academia and industry who will endeavour to discover new battery materials, understand their operation and integration in devices, and scale them for grid-level use.

Despite recent developments in energy storage, battery technology is still far from its potential. Shortcomings in battery life, power density, energy efficiency, and other metrics impede the introduction of next-generation of batteries to the marketplace. The high cost of raw materials, materials processing, cell and module packaging, and manufacturing also hold us back.

To meet these challenges, we must unify energy storage research across the UK and set leading university battery researchers to these challenges. The Faraday Institution will invest funds in collaborative research to reduce battery cost, weight, and volume; improve performance, efficiency, and reliability; develop scalable designs; improve our manufacturing abilities; develop whole-life strategies; and accelerate commercialization.

Next generation of scientists

Because next-generation energy storage will come from the next generation of scientists and engineers, The Faraday Institution is committed to developing a pipeline for diverse talent. Faraday will launch a national curriculum in energy storage research to nurture students from secondary school to advanced degrees. Faraday’s investment in training and technical education will address inequalities of opportunity that endure on the basis of race, gender, and class and work with industry to bring secure, well-paying jobs to the whole of the country.

Energy storage can reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency, and accelerate deployment of renewable electricity on the national grid, lowering energy costs. Safe, efficient, and dependable energy storage could spur changes in transportation, electric power, and buildings. To be successful, we must fund excellence competitively, work with industry to solve great challenges, and proceed pragmatically using every tool available.

Michael Faraday founded battery science and electrical engines in the 19th century, and the UK led the invention of lithium-ion batteries for mobile electronics in the 20th. In the 21st century, we will lead the transition to electric vehicles, and the convergence of the digital and electrified economies. These are the goals The Faraday Institution must achieve for the nation.

Posted on November 28, 2017 in Blog

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About the Author

Peter B. Littlewood is Founding Executive Chair of the Faraday Institution and is Professor of Physics at the University of Chicago. He served as the 13th Director of U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, after having served as the associate laboratory director of its Physical Sciences and Engineering directorate. He spent the previous 14 years at the University of Cambridge, where he last served as the head of the Cavendish Laboratory and the Department of Physics. Littlewood is internationally recognised for his research in a number of areas, including superconductivity, semiconductor optics and magnetic materials.

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