Wojciech Mrozik, Newcastle University
Wojciech Mrozik from Newcastle University is working to identify and mitigate safety and environmental risks of lithium-ion batteries
Tell us about your research and why your work is important
My research is part of the Faraday Institution’s SafeBatt project, which focuses on the science of lithium-ion battery safety. Like all technologies, lithium-ion batteries can fail from time to time and my work identifies the areas where batteries can fail and highlights to manufacturers where inventions and improvements are needed. We work with stakeholders, such as firefighters, to transfer and build upon knowledge about battery safety. Together, we look to update and create new operating procedures, identifying the possible risks and coming up with solutions to mitigate them.
For the experimental side of my research, I simulate drastic outcomes of battery abuse or failure. For instance, building a small domestic energy storage system and then abusing it by overcharging. We then analyse many parameters during the event like composition and volume of gases released, temperature behaviour inside the system and in the vicinity, and time of voltage collapses. We also use a lot of cameras to gather as much information as possible. This is the fun part! Later it comes to processing all the data and turning it into something useful like publications, reports etc. A big part of my work is presenting, educating and training various stakeholders like firefighters, professional associations, industry, and council or school administrators.
How did you get into battery research?
Let’s say that I came into battery research by accident! I have been in academia for some time and have jumped between different fields. My background is environmental and analytical chemistry and I previously researched pollution of water, soil, and wastewater from industry. I completed my undergraduate degree University of Gdansk in Poland and stayed for my PhD, for which I studied the behaviour of ionic liquids in the soil environment. The nature of being a researcher is working from contract to contract and project to project; one project came to an end and my colleague at Newcastle University thought that I might be interested in the research of Professor Paul Christensen’s group. I started working with Paul on the Faraday Institution’s ReLiB project, which looks at reuse and recycling of lithium-ion batteries.
Recycling helps us to recover the precious materials in batteries so that they can be reused. Within the project, I highlighted some environmental issues connected with batteries and their disposal. We also started having discussions about battery safety in the recycling process with the waste industry. One example of how battery safety must be considered in recycling is that sometimes rechargeable batteries are discarded incorrectly and collected with other types of household recycling. There is a risk of thermal runaway if these batteries are crushed if put through an inappropriate recycling process, which could cause a battery fire. These discussions, in part, led to the set-up of the SafeBatt project in April 2021. We continue to work closely with ReLiB.
What is a highlight of your career to date or the aspect that gives you greatest job satisfaction?
I like sitting as an interconnector between the ReLiB and SafeBatt projects, and between academia and other stakeholders like firefighters, the British Standard Institute and industrial organisations. I enjoy facilitating collaborations and knowing enough about each of these sectors to hold discussions that I find interesting. I am excited to go to Australia soon to work with New South Wales firefighters and help them plan their battery safety experiments.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
At the end of life of a battery, it goes to be recycled or is disposed, and sometimes batteries can be disposed of improperly. I wrote a review on this topic ‘Environmental impacts, pollution sources and pathways of spent lithium-ion batteries’. I tried to identify what the fate of spent lithium-ion batteries would be and the risks to the environment. I am quite proud of the attention that this paper has received – receiving a good number of citations in a short time and other researchers picking up work about the issues highlighted.
What opportunities has being part of the Faraday Institution opened up for you?
The Faraday Institution is a big community and pushes the electric revolution in the UK forwards. It helps to focus efforts in many different areas within battery science, and facilitates my research into battery recycling and safety. I have had opportunities to meet people from various disciplines and find the connections between different areas of battery research.
I am involved with running the Newcastle Battery School for Faraday Institution PhD researchers. We discussed the life cycle of a battery, from the supply chain of the raw materials to how it is recycled. As well as giving presentations about battery safety, I enjoyed talking to the PhD researchers about the diverse system around lithium-ion batteries and giving career advice. People with good knowledge of the battery sector, like the Faraday Institution PhD researchers, are needed by the UK battery industry and the feedback I received from these PhD researchers showed that we have broadened their thinking.
What are the biggest challenges you have overcome during your career and how have you gone about doing so?
Moving to the UK with my family could be considered a challenge but I tried to see it as an opportunity. Being a researcher and jumping from project to project sometimes seemed unstable, but then building expertise and being open-minded allows you to go between projects more easily and actually thrive in those projects.
What advice would you have liked to have given your younger self starting out on your career?
Work on your communication skills. It is very important to be able to communicate what you are doing and understand what others are doing. I describe myself as ‘functionally extraverted’ – I am naturally an introverted person but I enjoy being around people, giving presentations, and networking. Although I later need some rest!
I’d advise researchers not to fix themselves to a particular field, but to build their expertise, gain transferrable skills and look around and see how their research can be applied in the wider context. Think about what is cool about what you are doing right now, how you can merge it with your expertise, and how you can learn.
What are your career aspirations? What is the next step for you?
Right now, I am enjoying my role! I am now more exposed to what is happening outside of academia and building connections with different stakeholders. I love the science I am doing (getting to blow stuff up – simulating extreme abuse cases for Li-ion batteries – is cool), so would like to keep myself in the nexus of academia-industry-business.
What is your favourite battery-related fact?
That such a small thing can contain so much energy! Batteries have lots of potential but that comes with a responsibility.
If people want to find out more about your research, where would you point them to?
- Review paper ‘Environmental impacts, pollution sources and pathways of spent lithium-ion batteries’
- Wojciech is involved in the Newcastle Battery School, part of the Faraday Institution PhD Training Programme. More information. Join Cohort 6 of the Faraday Institution PhD Training Programme.
- Case study about Professor Paul Christensen ‘Research breakthrough increases safety of lithium-ion batteries’
- Independent research report for the UK government with contributions from the SafeBatt and ReLiB projects ‘Safety of second life batteries in battery energy storage systems’
Case study first published March 2023
About the author: Sophia Constantinou is the Digital and Social Media Co-ordinator at the Faraday Institution. She is a science communicator with a BSc in Chemistry from the University of Edinburgh.