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Major ERC funding for Materials Fellow to research sustainable technologies, including battery systems and catalysts

10 September 2020

Dr Rob Weatherup, Tutorial Fellow in Materials, has been awarded a prestigious £1.5M Starting Grant from the European Research Council in their latest round of funding. His project entitled ‘Extending Interface Science to Atmospheric-pressure Reactions’ (EXISTAR) will start in March 2021 and run for five years, aiming to develop new characterisation techniques to observe the interfaces between materials and their environment during operation.

These interfaces determine the performance of materials used for storing energy in batteries or removing toxic gases from car exhausts, but the dense liquid or gas environments they are surrounded by makes them hard to observe with existing techniques. Rob’s project will develop special windows that are transparent to X-rays, electrons and neutrons, through which the chemical reactions occurring on the surface of electrodes in batteries and on catalysts in high temperature reactors can be observed. This will help us to understand how current materials can be improved and why certain combinations of materials fail faster than others.

A huge range of research problems can potentially benefit from these new interface-sensitive techniques, but Rob’s initial focus will be sustainable technologies that are needed for a low-carbon economy. This includes low-cost, safe battery systems to store the energy of intermittent renewable energy sources for when it is needed, and identifying new catalysts that can be used to convert waste carbon dioxide into carbon-neutral liquid fuels and chemicals. Progress in these areas is key to meeting our emissions targets and limiting the extent of man-made climate change in the future.

Four other researchers from Oxford’s Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences (MPLS) Division were also awarded Starting Grants, and you can read about all the projects on the MPLS website. More information on this year’s ERC Starting Grants can be found on the ERC website.