Research

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The Materials Centre forms the nucleus of materials and physical chemistry research at the University of Leicester. Current academic projects and research activities focus on a range of materials focused themes, such as finishing processes, sustainability, recovery, mineralogy, engineering applications, forensics and the development and chemical analysis of novel ionic liquids and their applications within these fields.

Ionic Liquids

Among their properties, Ionic Liquids are electrically conductive, have thermal stability, low combustibility and can act as solvents for many diverse compounds. Ionic liquids are known to have substantial applications in the fields of catalysis, metal deposition, extraction and in batteries. However, for a long time the cost of ionic liquids and their sensitivity to oxygen and moisture have limited their use.

Metal oxides
Range of metal oxides dissolved in ionic liquid Deep Eutectic Solvents

In response to this, the Materials group at the University of Leicester has developed a series of ionic liquids that have shown to be inert to air and water, while being of comparable cost to common organic solvents. The basis of the group’s exploration into novel ionic liquids is formed by the eutectic mixtures of quarternary ammonium salts and either metal salts or hydrogen bond donors to create what are known as Deep Eutectic Solvents.

As these fluids are environmentally benign, they have facilitated the research into the replacement of traditional inorganic and toxic acids in materials finishing processes.

Ionic Mats
Electroplated nickel and silver coated brass (left); Immersion coated silver printed circuit board (centre); Partly electropolished stainless steel tube (right)
Examples of processes in which these novel ionic liquids are being utilised include metal plating, electrochemical dissolution and electropolishing. These Deep Eutectic Solvents have subsequently been used in thousands of worldwide scientific studies.

Publications

"Deep Eutectic Solvents (DESs) and their Applications", E.L. Smith, K.S. Ryder and A.P. Abbott, Chem. Rev., 2014, 114, 11060.

 

Current research projects

 

EU H2020 FET Open, grant awarded project; Sulfur-Aluminium Battery with Advanced Polymeric Gel Electrolytes (SALBAGE).

Salbage logo

In collaboration with ICTP-SCIC, TU Graz, the University of Southampton, TU Denmark and Albufera Energy Storage, the Materials Centre is developing a new secondary Aluminium Sulfur Battery.

The battery will be developed through focusing on the synthesis of solid-like electrolytes based on polymerizable ionic liquids and Deep Eutectic Solvents in order to obtainpolymer-gel electrolytes with an overall ionic conductivity in the range of 1 - 10 mS/cm at room temperature. Meanwhile, the aluminium negative electrode will be combined with a sulfur positive electrode including the unprecedented use of redox mediators to facilitate sulfur reaction kinetics and boost performance.

The SALBAGE project represents what will be a revolutionary breakthrough in the energy storage market due to the utilisation of highly available raw materials for the anode and the cathode in combination with a safe electrolyte. The new battery is expected to have a high energy density (1000wh/kg), and will significantly reduce both the high prices and solve substantial safety issues in comparison with present Li-ion technology.

The resulting features of the battery (flexibility, adaptability, shapeability) will enable us to design a new device with a focus on strategic applications, such as transport, aircraft industry or ITs, for which the SALBAGE battery will be specially designed and tested in relevant conditions.

SALBAGE Website

This project has received funding from the European Union's EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement No 721385

SALBAGE is funded by the European Union under the H2020-FETOPEN-1-2016-2017 Call. Grant agreement No 766581.

 


Innovate UK, Materials for Manufacturing grant funded project; Cadmium Replacement Using Pulse Plating And Ionic Liquids (CRUPPAIL).

CRUPPAIL logo

Cadmium (Cd) is a recognised hazardous substance and the regulation of its use has been put in place to limit harm through workplace exposure and environmental damage caused by effluent releases. Due to this, the use of cadmium plating for aerospace, marine, defence and critical applications is being restricted because of the associated toxicity.

As a replacement for cadmium plating, the Materials Centre is collaborating with Env Aqua Solutions, SEA, ECW and A-GAS to develop a new chemical process which can plate zinc-nickel (ZnNi) to create an alternative, safer, coating, while maintaining the technical properties of cadmium. This will be achieved through the use of novel ionic liquid non-aqueous chemistry and deep eutectic solvents.

Coupled with real-time in bath digital pulse electroplating, the project intends to provide a dynamic control system for the electrochemical reaction. This will deliver greater management of metal deposition and improved process performance, in regards to both energy and material efficiency.

While many other alternative technologies have lower performance ratings than Cd or are expensive, CRUPPAIL aims to deliver superior coatings with smaller grain boundaries and better lubricity which will increase the longevity of the coatings.

CRUPPAIL Website

Innovate UK logo

CRUPPAIL is co-funded by Innovate UK, Grant agreement No 103530.

 

Energy Research Accelerator; Novel battery chemistries and electrolytes.

ERA logo

The Materials Centre is currently collaborating with ERA to develop new battery storage facilities.

As part of the government’s Industrial Strategy to upgrade the nation’s energy systems, innovative energy storage systems can aid the integration of more environmentally economic carbon generation and reduce operating costs. The centre’s work with ERA focuses on research activities related to emerging cell chemistry technologies.

ERA Website

Innovate UK logo

ERA is funded by Innovate UK.

 

EU-H2020, Marie Curie European Training Networks funded project; Sustainable, zero-waste valorisation of critical-metal-containing industrial process residues (SOCRATES).

SOCRATES logo

 

The Materials Centre is part of the SOCRATES consortium which targets the development of ground-breaking metallurgical processes to utilise the raw secondary materials found in industrial process residues. The project features research into metal extraction, metal recovery, and residual matrix valorisation in added-value applications such as supplementary cementitious materials, inorganic polymers and catalysts. By training and developing the skills of early-stage researchers through active engagement with the project, SOCRATES encourages the next generation of highly skilled scientists and engineers in the raw-materials sector, while strengthening the EU's critical-metal supply chain.

The Materials Centre is leading research on developing biocompatible solvometallurgical and ionometallurgical leaching methods for recovery of critical (In, Ge, Sb, Ga) and economically important metals from low-grade industrial-process residues (tailings, Fe-rich sludges, slags and ashes).

SOCRATES Website

This project has received funding from the European Union's EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement No 721385

SOCRATES has received funding from the European Union's EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 under Grant Agreement No 721385.

 

Faraday Institution funded project; Recycling of lithium ion batteries (ReLiB).

The Materials Centre at the University of Leicester is one of several UK Universities and industrial partners collaborating on research into facilitating a circular economy in lithium ion batteries.

The project aims to establish an infrastructure in which 100% of the materials found in lithium ion batteries used in the automative sector can be recycled. This will result in a significant impact on issues such as the safety, economics and efficiency of battery recycling, while also reducing the environmental impact incurred by these processes.

ReLiB

ReLiB

Faraday Institution Faraday Sponsors

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Contact Details

College of Science and Engineering
Physics Building
University of Leicester 
Leicester
LE1 7RH
Tel: 0116 252 3497 
Email: skh14@leicester.ac.uk