Bigger, better batteries: Could this £250m project jumpstart the next power revolution?

A competition has been launched to unearth new research to make Britain the go-to place for battery storage.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The UK's business and energy secretary, Greg Clark, has announced a £45m competition to create a new centre for battery research in the UK. It's phase one of a larger pool of £246m reserved to kickstart the UK's future battery manufacturing prospects.

The competition, dubbed the Faraday Challenge, is a nod to British scientist Michael Faraday, who invented the Faraday cage among several discoveries in electromagnetism.

Clark said the Faraday Challenge will make Britain the "go-to place in the world for battery storage".

The UK's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council will lead the search for a new Battery Institute. The hope is to accelerate promising research at the institute to market, through industry partnerships via Innovate UK.

There will also be a "scale up" component to the competition, which will focus on developing new battery tech for real-world applications.

The UK's Advanced Propulsion Centre will also run a competition for proposals for a "state of the art open access" centre to be called the National Battery Manufacturing Development facility.

"Batteries will form a cornerstone of a low carbon economy, whether in cars, aircraft, consumer electronics, district or grid storage," said Professor Philip Nelson, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

"To deliver the UK's low carbon economy we must consolidate and grow our capabilities in novel battery technology."

The UK's plan has some similarities to the Obama administration's renewables focus in the 2009 stimulus package, which awarded funding to the US Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a research arm that was run from the US Department of Energy. The agency backs startups in new battery tech, biofuels, and other technologies for a cleaner grid and vehicles.

ARPA-E had invested about $1.3bn in 475 projects since its founding under a law signed by President George W. Bush. ARPA-E announced last year that 45 energy technologies it had backed had gained $1.25bn follow-on funding from the private sector.

Its future though looks uncertain under the Trump administration, which wanted to slash funding to ARPA-E and leave picking the winners in innovation to the private sector.

The UK's push for new battery tech ties in with the nation's plan to upgrade its energy system, which the government thinks can shave £40bn off consumers' energy bills.

Finally, Clark announced £25m of funding for off-road connected autonomous vehicles in construction, farming, and mining.

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