New £80m UK research facility lithium only — not to target lead acid

Funds from a new £80 million ($108 million) government-funded UK battery research facility, announced by Greg Clark, secretary of state for business and energy on November 29, will be directed at developing lithium batteries and lead acid batteries will not be considered.

The facility is to be built with collaboration between WMG, at the university of Warwick, the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership and Coventry City Council.

Dave Greenwood, a WMG official, told BESB that the facility would be funded by the Faraday Challenge, for which automotive was the leading application, but that grid storage, marine and aviation applications would also be engaged.

But when it came to the battery chemistries, “the facility is primarily aimed at lithium-ion technologies and those that will succeed it (such as sodium-ion, solid state and multivalent chemistries),” Greenwood said.

“This is disgraceful,” a senior battery figure told BESB. “There’s an almost instinctive knee-jerk bias to promote lithium over lead through a sheer lack of understanding of lead as an energy storage chemistry. This is a political and funding decision based on ignorance.”

Not all lead battery industry insiders agreed.

ALABC’s Geoffrey May said: “The facility is focused on automotive batteries and any battery developments that have application in energy storage will be a plus but not the key driver. Since it is automotive and mainly EVs, it has to use high-energy density batteries. The call for proposals was in the public domain and it is no surprise that the successful bidder is West Midlands based with the University of Warwick a key player as they are close to the automotive industry and have competence in battery research.

“I don’t think the lead battery industry can feel excluded on this one. We have to play to our strengths.”

The WMG said: “The Faraday Challenge is driven by automotive requirements (in the first instance). The sector can buy adequate lead acid batteries in the open market without a need for a development facility like this.”

Greenwood said that as far as recycling was concerned, the facility would explore the use of materials and constructions of batteries that can be more easily recycled, “and will explore the use of recycled material in the construction of new batteries.

“It won’t be directly developing material recovery process,” he said.

“The facility will assist manufacturers and boost the future vehicle and transportation electrification industry by leading innovation, enabling the creation of products with performance ahead of international benchmarks speeding market entry, enabling rapid growth, and acting as a magnet for inward investment in the key technologies. It will also significantly scale up UK skills capacity in this area,” the announcement said.

Also pictured, University of Warwick Vice Chancellor Professor Stuart Croft (left) and  Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, Regius Professor of Manufacturing and the Chairman of WMG.

The plant should be up and running by 2019.