Forget drones, VR or AI, the most important technology that exists today are batteries. If we’re to move towards a more connected world, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and effectively save the planet, batteries are the key technology that will get us there. Sadly, we’re still using technology that is more than three decades old.
In a bid to advance this technology, and establish itself as a world leader in battery research, business secretary Greg Clark has announced a government investment drive worth £246 million.
The government investment will fund a series of competitions, under the Faraday Challenge project, over the next four years designed to boost the research and development of expertise in battery technology.
Named after Michael Faraday, the 19th-century scientist who pioneered the technology behind the electric motor, the challenges will be led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). These challenges will fit three criteria: research, innovation and scale-up.
Under research, the project “support world class research and training in battery materials, technologies and manufacturing processes” by establishing a virtual Battery Institute. The “most promising” research completed by the Institute will then be used to take ideas to market through collaborative R&D competitions, led by Innovate UK. The Advanced Propulsion Centre will then help further develop the real-world use and application of battery technology, working with automotive experts, which will determine where the new state-of-the-art open access National Battery Manufacturing Development facility should be established.
The first phase of funding, worth £45 million, was unveiled as part of the industrial strategy in Birmingham yesterday and it followed a three-month consultation with relevant businesses and organisations.
“The Faraday Challenge is a new way of working,” said Philip Nelson, chief executive of the EPSRC. “It will bring together the best minds in the field, draw on others from different disciplines, and link intimately with industry, innovators and other funders to ensure we maintain our world-leading position and keep the pipeline of fundamental science to innovation flowing.”
Alongside the Industrial Strategy speech made by the business secretary, the government and Ofgem unveiled its ‘flexible energy’ plan. This has been designed to give homes and businesses more control over their energy use and support innovative new technologies as part of the Faraday Challenge project.
This “will deliver a smarter more flexible energy system by removing barriers to smart technology, reducing costs for consumers,” according to Ofgem.
The report, Upgrading our energy system describes how more than a quarter of the UK’s electricity is being generated through renewables, such as wind and solar, much of it located close to homes and businesses. The plan is to develop new technologies that help store and manage this energy. In particular, this could take the form of home batteries (similar to the Powerwall and Powerwall 2 proposed by Elon Musk) and Ofgem believes new smart technologies like smart meters – and appliances you can control from your mobile phone – along with other improvements to manage the energy system will help the country save up to £40bn on energy costs over decades to come.
In a letter to Clarke in March, the government’s chief scientific advisor Mark Walport wrote: “The global policy imperative to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions creates major challenges in decarbonising energy generation across sectors. Energy storage is a key technology for optimising renewable energy sources and balancing the grid, but in the shorter term is of particular pertinence for decarbonising transport.
“Whilst UK research funding has previously been applied at all three of these levels (research, innovation, and scale-up), there has never been a programme that is explicitly and formally linked across these levels and scaled to address a specific industrial challenge. Doing so would drive improved efficiency of translation of UK science excellence into desirable economic outcomes, would leverage significant industrial investment in the form of a ‘deal’ with industry, and would send a strong investment signal globally.”