Dominic Spencer Jolly, University of Oxford

Dominic Spencer Jolly, research associate at the University of Oxford, understanding modes of failure in solid-state batteries as part of the SOLBAT project  

Dominic Spencer Jolly head and shouldersTell us about your research 

Until recently, as part of the SOLBAT project, I researched the interface between the ceramic solid electrolyte and lithium metal anode in solid-state batteries. Solid-state batteries have huge potential but come with particular challenges. One of the most limiting challenges is that dendrites can penetrate the ceramic electrolyte, causing failure during charging. However, other challenges exist at this interface that have attracted less research interest but are no less important. I worked on understanding the formation of voids at the interface. When a battery is discharged too quickly, lithium-ions are rapidly stripped away. As a result, the lithium anode begins to lose contact with the solid electrolyte, which can lead to critical failings later in the cycling process.  

In May, I moved away from solid-state batteries and started working on BIG-MAP, a project supported by the European Research Initiative BATTERY 2030+, that will use Artificial Intelligence-accelerated methodology to transform our understanding of battery interfaces and materials. 

How do you describe why your work is important to non-specialists?

As we develop a more sustainable world, we need to be able to store and use energy in different ways for various applications. Solid-state batteries could be very effective in electric vehicles, as they hold the potential to have a longer range, faster charging, be cheaper, and have a longer lifespan than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Conventional batteries have a graphite anode, liquid electrolyte, and a lithium-transition metal oxide cathode. If you replace the graphite anode with pure lithium metal, it’s more energy dense by both unit volume and weight but comes with potential safety concerns. Solid-state batteries allow us to use lithium metal safely and efficiently, but we need to figure out how to make them affordable and manufacturable. 

How did you get into battery research? 

I did a four-year integrated master’s degree in Chemistry at the University of Oxford. My last year was pure research, and I realised that was what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to do research in a sustainable energy field and was looking at lots of different areas like photovoltaics and batteries. I applied for a few positions and was interviewed by my current supervisor Professor Sir Peter Bruce. He struck me as someone I would really like to work for. So really, a good meeting with a good supervisor got me into battery research! 

What is a highlight of your career or the aspect that gives you greatest job satisfaction?

I get the greatest job satisfaction from seeing data after it has first been processed. After designing and carrying out an experiment, you can’t truly know how well it’s gone until the data has been processed. Nothing beats seeing it for the first time and realising you’re onto something new and exciting. For example, I do a lot of work using X-ray computer tomography to carry out 3D high-resolution imaging of batteries as they cycle. We use the l12 and l13 beamlines at the Diamond Light Source, and have also used TOMCAT at the Swiss Light Source at the Paul Scherrer Institute. We get access to the synchrotron facilities for a limited number of days, so when we’re there we work for 24 hours in shifts with the team. Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned, we have to think on our feet, and we’re often shattered by the end! But it’s a fantastic feeling when, weeks later, we get to see the results and find that it was all worth it. 

Inside the Diamond Light Source

Panorama of the inside of the Diamond Light Source
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Prosthetic Head, distributed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

What accomplishments are you most proud of? 

My first paper, published in Nature Materials, was with Dr Jitti Kasemchainan on voiding problems during solid-state battery discharge. I’m very proud of it, and it got good feedback, which was great at such an early point in my academic journey. More recently, I worked with Ziyang Ning, who was a DPhil student with Peter Bruce at the same time as me. We published a paper in Nature Materials detailing how dendrites grow through solid-state batteries. Seeing it presented at conferences and shown to the battery research community is a great feeling. 

What opportunities has being part of the Faraday Institution opened up for you? 

The Faraday Institution and SOLBAT have brought in a wide range of expertise to work on a few specific and critical issues in solid-state batteries. They have allowed me to collaborate with people who are mechanical testers, modellers, and X-ray tomography experts from across the British academic community. I have also had the opportunity to help supervise Faraday Undergraduate Summer Experience (FUSE) interns, which has been a very fulfilling experience. I am incredibly proud of my first intern, Izzy Stephens, who got a paper published out of her 8-week project, won the poster prize, and has now gone on to do a PhD in batteries.  

What are the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your career and how have you gone about doing so? 

The COVID-19 pandemic was a big challenge, mainly because it started when I was coming to the end of my PhD. I was suddenly out of the lab for six months and went from feeling I was on track to being very behind where I wanted to be. I overcame this through good planning – there was plenty of time to plan whilst labs were shut! I also had excellent supervision and am grateful to the solid-state battery team for help and advice during that time.

What advice would you have liked to have given your younger self starting out on your career? 

I have received lots of good advice over time. One piece that sticks out in my mind is to work on the questions you find most interesting. It’s a good sign that you’re working on a cutting-edge research problem, and also work is so much better when you’re enjoying it. 

What are your career aspirations? 

I really enjoy what I currently do and would like to continue. Eventually, I’d love to have my own group and research aims and directions.   

What is your favourite battery-related fact? 

McKinsey & Company predict that battery manufacturing capacity in Europe will increase by 20 times between 2020 and 2030. It’s amazing. How can one predict what innovation we will see with 20 times growth? 

If people want to find out more about your research, where would you point them to? 

This press release by the Faraday Institution on our research on understanding why solid-state batteries fail. Peter Bruce and I wrote a section of the 2020 roadmap on solid-state batteries published in JPhys Energy that sums up how I have been thinking about batteries during my career. 

In August last year, a consortium of 7 UK-based organisations, including the Faraday Institution, the University of Oxford, and Britishvolt was established to develop prototype solid-state batteries. Read the Faraday Institution’s press release for more information.  

 

Connect with Dom on Twitter and LinkedIn

 

Published September 2022.

 

About the author: Cara Burke is the Faraday Institution’s Science Communications Intern in the summer of 2022. She has just completed her BSc Biological Sciences degree at Imperial College London and is pursuing a career in science communications.

 

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