The Leverhulme Centre for Material Social Futures
Lancaster University’s Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre in Material Social Futures is a major new strategic collaborative partnership between two of the university’s recently formed research Institutes – the Institute for Social Futures and the Material Science Institute. Based in the Chemistry Department you will be part of a growing team of PhDs who will examine how to create more sustainable and socially beneficial futures, and who will be trained to engage in diverse aspects of materials discovery and the analysis of social and economic structures to achieve these ends. In short, the goal of PhDs in Material Social Futures will be to help produce futures that people want and the world needs.
We live in a world where energy demand continues to expand. Individuals and institutions do not just use more, they consume it in ever more diverse ways; and whilst there might be a willingness to be more sensitive to sustainability energy solutions, the increase in demand outstrips the pace with which new, more sustainable sources can be developed. This is particularly the case with battery technologies. Here, it is not just replacing traditional Li-ion designs with more energy efficient and less costly manufacturing solutions that is being sought, but trying to map the relationship between new battery design and the energy requirements of different technological contexts of use. In the case of computer systems particularly, there is potentially intimate relationship between innovative battery design and innovation in software architecture and hardware. The two need to go hand in hand.
It is in light of this connection that this project aims to develop new cathode materials for Li-ion batteries that not only utilise sustainable and ethically sourced elements but whose design takes into account the diverse energy demands that different computational architectures and systems create. Accordingly, while the project’s primary goal will be to explore materials that are cobalt free while offering equivalent performance to existing battery materials (based on the nickel, manganese, cobalt (NMC) model), the project will also entail working closely with a team of researchers in computer science (and other disciplines) who are seeking to see how demand for energy can be shaped by other, ‘bigger picture’ considerations. High power density is readily achieved via cobalt free lithium iron phosphate chemistry, for example, but portable computer devices require enhanced energy density instead, i.e. high capacity and longer power duration. Hence, the development of battery technologies might factor these considerations into their iterative development.
The materials synthesis and fundamental electrochemistry of new sustainable metal-ion batteries will be studied using existing state-of-the-art equipment available in the Chemistry Department. In addition, the student will participate in various collaborative activities with other PhDs in the Material Social Futures training centre and will be assisted by ‘corresponding’ supervisors in the School of Computing and Communication.