Materials for energy applications

Synthesis, characterisation and theoretical understanding of functional materials to be used in energy applications. This area includes fundamental studies into potential materials for photovoltaics (PV), semiconductors, fuel cells and energy storage, and studies into polymeric, complex oxide, nanoionic, electrocaloric, magnetiocaloric and porous materials for potential future energy applications. The research will evolve as new technologies and materials properties emerge. This area only includes research into the materials systems for current and future energy technologies; it does not include technology development, which is covered in related research areas.

This is a very active area of research that will have increasing relevance to key real-world challenges – especially the need to generate energy more sustainably and cost-effectively to meet UK carbon reduction targets and aid economic growth. We therefore aim to grow the area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. By the end of the Delivery plan period, with our support:

  • The community will have developed stronger interdisciplinary links. Researchers will work with those across the Energy portfolio (e.g. in the Solar Technology, Fuel Cell Technology, Energy Storage and UK Magnetic Fusion Research Programme research areas), through networks in the Supergen Programme and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), to go on supporting design and evolution of new and existing materials for energy applications – and ensuring full exploitation of novel materials
  • The community will be flexible enough to adapt to significant challenges in energy demand and to retain recognised expertise within the UK. Development of Materials for Energy Applications will make a significant contribution to ensuring the resilience and sustainability of future UK energy supply (e.g. by underpinning enablers for renewable energy). Training is also key to this area, as well as to the wider energy industry; people with the right skills are needed in both industry and academia 
  • Researchers will have continued to succeed in applying for access to international facilities (an important consideration in a constrained capital environment), and to forge strong collaborations with international groups across the Materials for Energy field. This includes opportunities to contribute to ensuring global access to renewable energy and materials through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)
  • Researchers will have fostered strong links with the UK energy sector and industrial end-users, and supported the strategies of the Advanced Materials Leadership Council (AMLC) and the Sir Henry Royce Institute in the sphere of energy materials.

Growth in this area will be delivered through community co-ordination activities which we will help expand into a more unified, interdisciplinary network of researchers and industrial end-users (as in recent efforts in Advanced Materials for Energy Generation and Transmission). This will enable a more systematic approach to materials development and discovery.

Highlights:

Significant changes are required in the current energy system to transition to a low carbon energy mix and meet the Government’s 2050 greenhouse gas emissions targets. The required changes encompass energy storage technologies, efficient energy conversion devices, cost effective renewable generation technologies, new nuclear capability and management of nuclear waste.

Materials science has a key role to play in the future development of these technologies and fundamental materials and chemistry research undertaken in the UK is vital to maintaining this country’s competitive edge in the wider energy research landscape (Evidence source 1). Research is particularly strong in certain areas, including solar PV materials and devices, materials for fuel cells and energy storage (Evidence source 2,3). In nuclear fission, our internationally competitive (Evidence source 4) understanding of materials that can cope in extreme conditions is essential to new nuclear reactors, as well as to treatment and disposal of nuclear waste. Further development of technologies to improve efficiency, energy density or power conversion relies on the underpinning materials science, with a need for new or modified materials to deliver the next step-change in the field. Without them, UK capabilities will be limited.

The fundamental discovery and emergence of novel Materials for Energy Applications makes a significant contribution to the UK’s energy sector and the future of its energy infrastructure. For example, in 2013 the government published a strategy on solar energy which highlighted the opportunities for developing next-generation solar PV materials (Evidence source 3). More recently, it announced plans to invest £250 million in a nuclear R&D programme (Evidence source 5).

Innovation and involvement of other key technologies can help create numerous UK-based business opportunities in this area and also contribute to the future of the UK economy. This research area is of major interest to a number of companies across a spectrum of sectors, from energy to chemicals and manufacturing (Evidence source 6,7,8,9).

There has been steady growth in UK leadership and knowledge in this area and support across the various career stages is well-distributed. Training in this area has increased and should remain adaptable to accommodate changes within the energy sector, enabling researchers at both the fundamental materials level and the applied end of the research spectrum to feed into technological advances as the field evolves.

The research community does, however, face difficulties in scaling-up its investigations due to the low number of large-scale testing facilities available nationally for demonstrating and modelling new materials technologies. Nevertheless, researchers are successfully applying for access to international facilities and this level of interaction with other countries should be maintained.

This research area can contribute to a number of  Ambitions within the Productive and Resilient Nation Outcomes, including:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

This research area can contribute to development, design and characterisation of new materials (e.g. for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), fusion and energy storage).

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

P2: Ensure affordable solutions for national needs

This research area can help address future national needs by improving fundamental aspects of technological advances in the energy sector.

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency

New materials and materials development will be critical to next-generation technologies for solar, energy storage (at all scales and for various purposes), energy conversion, nuclear fission and waste management.

P5: Transform to a sustainable society, with a focus on the circular economy

This research area will help meet the need to shift away from dependency on fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources.

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Grow

We aim to grow this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Materials for energy applications (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Jaspreet Kular
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Section / Team: Physical Sciences
Organisation: EPSRC
Telephone: 01793 444320