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Cambridge Graphene Centre

Research Centre on Graphene, Layered Crystals and Hybrid Nanomaterials
Cambridge Graphene Centre students win award for new battery design

Three-electrode cell with built-in pressure sensor snags 2020 CAPA prize

Two proud doctoral students from the Cambridge Graphene Centre and the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Graphene Technologies, at the University of Cambridge, have been presented with the 2020 CAPE Acorn Post-graduate Research Award (CAPA). This prize recognizes their innovative project proposal that aims to manufacture and test a three-electrode electrochemical cell with a built-in pressure sensor.

Three-electrode cells are an important tool for battery research, as they allow scientists to monitor the performance while independently recording the potential of the anode and cathode. Swagelok cells are the most common design for three-electrode cells, but they often suffer from poor sealing and lack the ability to monitor excessive pressure – both of which result in poor battery performance.

Liam Bird and Dylan Maxwell, both doctoral students at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Graphene Technology, affiliated to the Cambridge Graphene Centre, the Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy and the Department of Chemistry,  plan to make and test a new  experimental cell, featuring tighter O-ring seals and axial pressure and gas sensors built into the device. The tighter seals reduce contamination from air and moisture, increasing the cell’s lifetime. The sensors, on the other hand, allow scientists to measure the pressure inside the cell, as well as any gas evolved due to side-reactions. Simultaneous monitoring of the potential at the anode and cathode will enable them to evaluate the electrochemical performance of new battery materials.

Maxwell and Bird say that the new design will make battery testing more repeatable by allowing scientists to use the axial pressure as a control parameter. In addition, they can use the pressure measurements, as a function of the potential, to determine the charge and health of the battery.

The Acorn Fund, provided by the Centre for Advanced Photonics and Electronics (CAPE), from the Department at Engineering of the University of Cambridge, aims to support innovative research initiatives from young researchers, in parallel with their current research and postgraduate studies. The students were awarded £2000 for creating a full experimental design.

They hope that their design will help further understand the electrochemical processes occurring while testing batteries, particularly those that lead to battery degradation. The students are optimistic that the pressure and gas data will contribute to the optimization of new, innovative battery manufacture processes on a large scale.