A Faraday Institution Industry Fellowship has helped deliver new insights into controlling particle morphology in high-nickel cathode materials, paving the way for more efficient, high-performance, cathodes to be developed.

The fellowship saw Dr Glen Murray, a post-doctoral researcher working with Professor Serena Cussen at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, University of Sheffield, undertake an 18-month placement at Cornwall-based electrochemical materials firm TFP Hydrogen. During the fellowship, Dr Murray took a systematic approach to controlling particle morphology for high-nickel cathode materials determining the experimental conditions that were most effective and could be reproduced at scale.

High-nickel cathode materials include the NMC (nickel, manganese, cobalt) family, a type of lithium-ion battery cathode deployed across a range of products including electric vehicles and consumer goods. Such cathodes offer greater energy density than those based on other chemistries, but challenges remain in mitigating degradation processes. Finding ways to stabilise nickel-rich cathodes and prevent this degradation could allow new high-nickel-based materials to be developed to power longer-lasting cells.

For TFP Hydrogen, which supplies materials to clients working across a wide range of products, including water electrolysers and medical devices, the battery materials market represents a largely untapped and potentially sizeable opportunity.

During his time at the company, Dr Murray looked at various techniques for controlling morphology of cathode particles beginning with laboratory-based methods developed by the Sheffield team. Dr Murray successfully replicated this research, controlling particle size distribution and exploring continuous manufacturing processes for high-nickel cathode materials that could be used in the future.

The Faraday Institution Industry Fellowship has enabled the team at TFP Hydrogen to build its knowledge of the high-nickel cathode materials manufacturing process, as well as increasing its broader understanding of manufacturing particles and particle size distribution for nickel-based chemistries, which it can apply to other parts of its business.

Working in an industrial setting gave Dr Murray the opportunity to examine how lab-based processes can be brought into industry, as well as providing him with an insight into some of the problems faced by manufacturers working on the next generation of battery materials.

The findings from the fellowship will be used to direct future research into high-nickel cathode materials by the Sheffield team, offering a guide to the factors that have the biggest impact on the quality and performance of the finished cathode using approaches that can be successfully taken up by industry.

Since completing his fellowship, Dr Murray has gone on to take up a full-time job with Jaguar Land Rover, working as a lead battery materials scientist for the automotive giant.

Dr David Hodgson, Managing Director of TFP Hydrogen, said: “As a company we want to maintain a strategic position with regards to the battery materials market, and partnerships like this are vital to helping us continue building our knowledge of these materials and how they can be manufactured efficiently.

“Glen has given us a way to move forward through his work on different synthetic methodologies, and we want to maintain and deepen our relationship with Professor Serena Cussen and her group at the University of Sheffield so that we can look at further collaborations in this area.

“For a business like TFP Hydrogen, which is focused on R&D as well as manufacturing, to have the opportunity to take part in a programme like the Industrial Fellowship is a very powerful one. It means we’ve been able to devote some time to looking at some of the exciting opportunities the battery sector presents.”

Professor Serena Cussen, Head of Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Principal Investigator of the Faraday Institution FutureCat project, said: “I am very proud of the work done by our team at Sheffield through the research programmes of the Faraday Institution, particularly around controlling the chemistry and morphology of nickel-rich near-market cathodes for Li-ion batteries.

“These materials are highly promising for high-energy density batteries, but challenges remain in their synthesis and long-term stability. The award of this Faraday Institution Industry Fellowship has enabled our team to take our synthetic developments from the lab directly to industry and provided us valuable insights into manufacturing challenges. Our partnership with TFP Hydrogen has been extremely productive and we look forward to continuing our collaboration.”