Aston University researchers in Birmingham, England, are embarking on a groundbreaking exploration of gel electrolyte materials to enhance the safety and environmental sustainability of lithium-ion batteries, the predominant energy storage solution for electric vehicles (EVs) and electronic devices. 

The research initiative, backed by a grant of £443,058 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, aims to develop safe, reliable, and commercially relevant gel electrolyte materials.

The current assembly process for batteries and energy storage devices involves multiple steps and employs flammable solvents and materials derived from fossil fuels, known for their poor thermal and chemical stability. 

Dr Matt Derry, a lecturer in chemistry leading the Aston University team, expressed the critical need to identify scalable methods for sustainable energy storage, with a specific focus on overcoming the challenges hindering the wider adoption of renewable energy.

He said: “We will create recyclable gel electrolytes using non-harmful, non-flammable and renewably sourced materials for next-generation battery technologies.”

The team’s approach involves creating renewable ionogels, which conduct electrically charged ions, thereby replacing hazardous and flammable components in existing battery technologies. 

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These gel electrolyte materials are anticipated to not only enhance safety by preventing leaks but also contribute to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly battery manufacturing process.

The grant, set to commence on March 1, 2024, supports the research project that is scheduled to conclude in February 2027.

The team recently published a paper titled “Block copolymer synthesis in ionic liquid via polymerisation-induced self-assembly: a convenient route to gel electrolytes” in Chemical Science, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s flagship open-access journal, which showcases its innovative approach to generating ionogels.

Derry emphasised the transformative nature of the research programme, anticipating the development of sustainable and responsive ionogel materials that are easier to manufacture. 

The resulting ionogels, according to Derry, will address significant shortcomings in the underutilisation of renewable energy and align with the UK’s commitment to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

As the research progresses, Georgia Maitland, a PhD student who is part of the team, will be employed as a post-doctoral researcher at Aston University, further cementing the commitment to advancing sustainable energy storage solutions. 

The research initiative comes at a crucial time, aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy, and highlighting its timeliness and potential impact in addressing global energy challenges.