An international research team from the University of Cambridge, Diamond Light Source and the Advanced Photon Source have been awarded the 2019 Charles Hatchett Award. Given for originality and technical excellence and the best paper on the science and technology of niobium-based materials, the winners were announced as Kent J. Griffith (UK), Kamila M. Wiaderek (USA), Giannantonio Cibin (UK), Lauren E. Marbella (UK) and Clare P. Grey (UK), for their paper published in Nature: ‘Niobium Tungsten Oxides for High-rate Lithium-ion Energy Storage’.
The University of Cambridge team studied a new material that could improve the charging speed and storage capacity of rechargeable batteries for use in electric vehicles and mobile devices at Diamond, the UK’s synchrotron, and at the Advanced Photon Source in the US. Niobium tungsten oxide is able to store an unexpectedly large quantity of energy and the team used the Core X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS) beamline (B18) to investigate the chemical changes that occur in these materials.
Principal Beamline Scientist, Giannantonio Cibin at Diamond explains; “We need to develop new electrode materials for batteries which will improve both charge/discharge rates and increase storage capacities. This is really important for growing markets such as electric vehicles, portable appliances and large-scale energy storage. This research highlights why two complex niobium-tungsten oxides show higher energy and power densities than those in battery materials currently available.”
The selection process of the Charles Hatchett Award is concerned with technical excellence and originality, but also takes account of the social, economic and environmental advantages of any proposed application of niobium. The International Panel for the Charles Hatchett Award commented, “This paper deals with a very important research topic with potential commercial applications involving the use of niobium: how to significantly increase the capacity and reduce the charging time of Li-ion batteries. The research used a very wide range of experimental methods, producing extensive experimental data. The potential applications of the technology could have clear sustainability-related impacts by promoting the use of non-carbon energy storage and usage.”
The team’s results showed that both niobium and tungsten ions are able to store ‘extra’ charge in the battery, beyond what is usually expected, and that they work together. This is different from many battery materials containing multiple types of ion, where they are usually not active at the same time and some are not active at all. The new battery material is designed to be used as the negative electrode (anode), and to work with any of the many positive electrodes (cathodes) that are used in commercial lithium-ion batteries.