In a move aimed at powering its transition to a low-carbon economy with energy storage, the UK is set to fund battery technology research to the tune of £246m ($320m).
Business and energy secretary Greg Clark is scheduled to announce a four-year investment round, called the Faraday Challenge, today.
According to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department, the funding will be distributed through three competition streams that will aim to boost UK-based R&D in storage technology.
A £45m research competition will be led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and will begin by creating a Battery Institute. This will consist of a consortium of universities and will aim to address the key industrial challenges in battery development.
The next stage will be led by innovation funding body Innovate UK, which will hold R&D competitions designed to bring the most promising results of the Battery Institute closer to market.
For stage three, a competition led by the Advanced Propulsion Centre will focus on scaling up battery technology. The competition is aimed at finding the best proposal for a new open access National Battery Manufacturing Development facility.
Professor Philip Nelson, head of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said batteries “will form a cornerstone of a low carbon economy, whether in cars, aircraft, consumer electronics, district or grid storage” and that “to deliver the UK’s low carbon economy we must consolidate and grow our capabilities in novel battery technology”.
Ruth McKernan, Innovate UK Chief Executive said: “By any scale, the Faraday Challenge is a game changing investment in the UK and will make people around the globe take notice of what the UK is doing in terms of battery development for the automotive sector.
“The competitions opening this week present huge opportunities for UK businesses, helping to generate further jobs and growth in the UK’s low carbon economy.”
The announcement was largely met with support from energy players. Dr Jenifer Baxter, Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: “These changes for consumers in generation and demand management are a positive next step for the electricity sector. It makes sense to encourage behavioural changes in this way. Apart from potentially saving consumers money, it also allows us to make better use of our resources.”
She said the role of batteries in electricity storage “is still emerging and it is important that research and development explore whether the materials used in batteries, from extraction to disposal, are sustainable and therefore the best solution for electricity storage. It may be that other storage mediums such as gas, compressed air energy storage and water provide a more suitable and sustainable long term solution.”
“This announcement addresses a very small part of the whole energy system, areas where we are currently seeing increases in oil use, such as freight and shipping require significant investment to explore alternative fuels, such as bio-methane and hydrogen. Continued development across the energy system from multiple renewable and low emissions technologies remains vital to making the best use of our limited resources and meeting our long-term emissions targets.”
James Court, Renewable Energy Association (REA) head of policy and external affairs, commented on the link between energy storage and the global energy transition. “The global market is quickly moving towards a decentralized model, relying less on large fossil generation and more on flexible and increasingly cheap renewable sources,” he said. “More energy storage empowers this and will lead to a lower cost, lower carbon energy system.”
He added that the launch of a Battery Institute “will help guide next-generation storage technologies through the hazards that lie between a good idea in a lab and actual deployment in homes and on solar farms.”
And Hannah Martin, head of energy at Greenpeace UK, called the announcement “a sign of the modern, smart and flexible energy system we are moving towards. Innovation in battery technology will support the electric vehicle revolution, tackling lethal air pollution and complementing renewables and energy efficiency.”
But Justin Bowden, energy secretary at the GMB union, cautioned that “as we expand support for crucial research into battery storage and cost-effective renewables we [must] make urgent investment decisions to support gas and new nuclear so we have reliable baseload capacity for all those times when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow”.
“The breakthrough in storage is still yet to come and wishful thinking alone won’t make it happen,” he added.