Quantum scientists at the University of Sussex have won major government funding to develop sensors for electric vehicle batteries, in a project with the potential to make Britain a global leader in the green manufacturing revolution.

The team of physicists, led by Prof Peter Kruger, attracted £1.1 million in funding alongside Sussex Innovation tenants and commercial partners CDO2, with their wider collaboration securing a total of £5.4 million.

The project builds on work started by the Sussex researchers and CDO2 founder Dr Gary Kendall in 2018, with a £455k project from the Faraday Battery Challenge. In 2019 the team announced that they had produced the world’s first sensor for EV batteries.

The funding win is part of Innovate UK’s total £23 million investment. It sees £500,000 go to the University of Sussex scientists and £600,000 go to CDO2. The project – which will include further research, and the development of an commercial supply chain for electric batteries – is part of the government’s ‘Commercialising Quantum Technologies’ programme.

Together, the Sussex partnership will build quantum sensors to test the health of electric batteries. The development will streamline the battery development process. Normally, electric batteries are left to develop at a warm temperature and are assumed to be ready after several weeks. But with the new quantum sensors, the batteries can be tested for their readiness in real-time, potentially speeding the production process from weeks to days. This means they’ll be useable more quickly, and that more batteries can be created in the meantime. It’ll save factory space and energy costs too.

The three year project will see a pilot production facility established in Thurso in Scotland, before a new ‘Gigafactory’ is built to make the batteries. The University of Sussex will be home to a prototype of the new battery sensor.

“We’re thrilled that the research we pioneered at the University of Sussex is driving this project and providing sustainable solutions in the race to switch from fossil fuels to electric power,” said Professor Peter Kruger from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex. “We developed the underlying technology in our laboratory at the University of Sussex, where we use quantum sensors to create an image of what’s happening inside the battery. Previously, the only way to see inside such a battery was to open it up.

“Our work has important sustainability benefits: the project will increase the recyclability of batteries, and prevent useable ones from being unnecessarily discarded. And it will bring energy savings in the production process too, as the batteries will not need to be housed at high temperatures for so long. Over the last few years we have developed a symbiotic relationship with our commercial partners CDO2, crossing boundaries where we are now seriously linking industry and academia.”

“It is very exciting to have such widespread support for the development of this new technique for end-of-line testing of battery cells that we developed with the University of Sussex,” said Dr Gary Kendall, founder at CDO2. “We are looking forward to working across the quantum supply chain in the UK to turn it into a commercial product for battery factories worldwide.”

Electric vehicles are predicted to comprise 20 per cent car sales by 2026, which means the demand for batteries will undoubtedly rocket. And it is reported that the UK government is poised to bring forward its ban on new fossil fuel vehicles from 2040 to 2030. There is a global race to use quantum technology to solve urgent problems, and this project is an important part of the UK’s response to that.

The project is being led by AMTE Power who are building the first “Gigafactory” for battery cell production in the UK. The full list of partners in the project is: Compound Semiconductor Centre Ltd, Magnetic Shields Ltd, Compound Semiconductor Technologies, Alter Technology, Kelvin Nanotechnology Ltd, and Centre for Process Innovation, CDO2, University of Strathclyde, and the University of Sussex.

Read the case study on how Sussex Innovation has supported this project here, or register here to attend the virtual Quantum Showcase on Friday 6th November, part of the industry’s annual flagship event.

CDO2 is a leader in current density imaging.