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Nexeon and its partners have been awarded GBP7m (US$9.5m) in Innovate UK funding for a project to develop improved materials for Li-ion batteries.

The work is a step to achieving electric vehicles with a range of 400 miles and above.

The project, named Sunrise (after Synthomer, UCL & Nexeon’s Rapid Improvement in the Storage of Energy), will develop better battery materials based on silicon as a replacement for carbon in the cell anode and optimise cell designs for automotive application.

Innovate UK will fund the majority of the GBP10m project as part of the Faraday Battery Challenge.

Nexeon will lead the silicon material development and scale-up stages of the Sunrise project, while polymer company, Synthomer will head the next generation polymer binder optimised to work with silicon, and ensure anode/binder cohesion during a lifetime of charges.

Nexeon and University College London (UCL) will jointly lead the work on material characterisation and cell performance.

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Silicon is currently being adopted as a partial replacement for carbon in battery anodes, typically up to the level of 10% replacement, but problems caused by expansion when the cells are charged and discharged remain a hurdle.

Project Sunrise addresses silicon expansion and binder system issues, allowing more silicon to be used, further increasing energy density which can be achieved in the cell.

Silicon anode material with a polymer binder represents a ‘drop-in’ replacement for current graphite anode systems. Lower cost and better performance power sources will reduce the time required for EVs to achieve mass adoption.

“The biggest problems facing EVs: range anxiety, cost, charge time or charging station availability, are almost all related to limitations of the batteries,” said Nexeon CEO, Scott Brown. 

“Silicon anodes are now well established on the technology road maps of major automotive OEMs and cell makers and Nexeon has received support from UK and global OEMs, several of whom will be involved in this project as it develops.”

For her part, Innovate UK chief executive, Ruth McKernan added: “The Faraday Battery Challenge is breaking new ground because it offers for the first time a co-ordinated programme of competitions across research, innovation and scale-up.

“It will therefore draw the very best of the UK’s world-leading research into commercial technologies, and put UK businesses at the forefront of electric vehicle battery development.”

The Faraday Battery Challenge was unveiled last July, and is the first in a series of Research Challenges managed by Innovate UK as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

The Faraday Battery Challenge is an investment of GBP246m across four years to help UK businesses build on opportunities presented by the transition to a low carbon economy.

Success in creating a viable battery supply chain will lead to the creation of hundreds of UK jobs, according to Innovate UK.