University of Strathclyde: Research into magnesium as a sustainable alternative to lithium in batteries

The potential for magnesium to offer a sustainable and affordable alternative to lithium in batteries is being explored in research led at the University of Strathclyde.

The study, funded by the Faraday Institution, will develop suitable electrolytes, which connect electrodes to each other and allow current to flow, for use in rechargeable, high energy density batteries. They will be capable of supporting efficient and repeatable transfer of magnesium between the batteries’ electrodes and will have high stability, to withstand the operating conditions of the battery.

The electrolytes will be tested for electrochemical performance against existing cathode materials and analysed for their performance and stability.

The one-year study has received seed funding of £114,641 from the Institution. It also involves the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), in which Strathclyde is a strategic partner, and the University of Sheffield.

Dr Stuart Robertson, a Senior Lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, is leading the research. He said: “We are going through a period of massive battery demand, with governments setting targets for electric vehicles and increasing demand for off-grid storage, to store renewable energy for times when there is no wind or sun.

“Lithium is used extensively in batteries but it is not in great natural abundance and tends not to be recycled from spent batteries. Batteries in electric vehicles also need to be much larger than those in a phone or a laptop.

“Magnesium offers a natural alternative because it is much more abundant, is easier to obtain, and has competitive performance levels.
“We have been encouraged by the performance of magnesium in experiments we have carried out so far. At Strathclyde, we are a team of synthetic chemists and, with this grant from the Faraday Institution, we will be working on the design, synthesis and testing of electrolytes along with electrochemists at the University of Sheffield and NPL.”

The study is one of 16 small, fast-paced, focused projects to be funded by the Faraday Institution in areas not covered within its existing battery research portfolio. In doing so, it has widened its research scope, and set of university partners, in an initiative that will inform future priorities for its research programme beyond March 2023.

The new seed projects aim to deliver transformative results that may lead to a second stage of collaborative research beyond the initial exploratory work.

Faraday Institution CEO Professor Pam Thomas said: “These novel projects are in areas of application-inspired research that continue to strengthen the UK’s position in electrochemical energy storage and ultimately contribute to making UK industry more competitive.”