Foreign Secretary James Cleverly met with scientists and engineers developing revolutionary battery technologies in Glasgow – a year on from world leaders gathering in the city for the COP26 climate summit.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) is supporting the Faraday Institution and researchers from the University of Strathclyde through its Transforming Energy Access (TEA) programme to help offer lower cost, more recyclable battery technology to developing countries.

Nearly a tenth of the world’s population – 733 million people – do not have access to the electricity they need to light their homes, refrigerate their food, or keep cool in rising temperatures. Around 2.4billion people rely on dirty biomass fuels such as charcoal, firewood, or animal waste for cooking.

Clean energy

The UK Government announced £126 million of new scale-up funding for TEA during Energy Day at COP26 – with the aim of improving clean energy access for 25 million people and saving nearly 2.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions.

Since TEA was launched in 2015, it’s given 16 million of the world’s poorest people improved access to clean energy and generated 96,000 green jobs.

Mr Cleverly was greeted by Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal & Vice-Chancellor of Strathclyde, before he was shown a research project led by the University, which is developing a ground breaking battery technology in collaboration with Edinburgh-based energy storage innovator StorTera. He also met researchers from the University of St Andrews, who are working on a separate TEA-programme funded project.

StorTera has developed the world’s first spiral flow battery technology, which has very low capital cost, long life time, is safe and highly energy dense, and is recyclable at the end of life. The flow battery will provide storage for solar mini-grids in Sub-Saharan Africa and is based on sustainable and recyclable materials that perform well in hot climates, unlike Lithium-ion batteries.

Researchers in the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at Strathclyde have helped formulate the liquid electrolyte to reduce the cost by >20% and increase the lifetime of the battery.

They have also engaged with mini-grid installers in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa to inform the design and operational requirements for the system. StorTera is building a prototype flow battery to be tested later this year at the PNDC, Strathclyde’s facility for grid-scale electrical testing.

International development

Sir Jim said: “We were delighted to host the Foreign Secretary and to show him the range of work we’re doing at Strathclyde to support access to clean, reliable and sustainable energy to those around the world who need it.

“Strathclyde has a proud history of international development work with global teaching, research and innovation activities delivered in collaboration with government, academic and industrial partners.

“We are committed to urgently addressing climate change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals while taking a whole systems approach that considers the interdependencies between environmental, societal and economic challenges the global community faces and that informs the implementation of policy, technology and investment priorities. “

Innovation superpower

Mr Cleverly said: “Today’s visit is hugely important for me, to see first-hand how people in Scotland are building on the legacy of the UK’s COP Presidency in Glasgow to make progress in the fight against climate change.

“Scotland is famous as an innovation superpower. It has given the world the television, telephone and penicillin, so it was wonderful to learn how Scottish scientists are continuing this rich tradition to develop the revolutionary new batteries of the future fuelled by cleaner energy.

“The UK Government is proud to support vital work at the universities of Strathclyde and St Andrews which will help developing countries to access battery technologies to drive green growth and give millions a ladder out of poverty. “

Professor Pam Thomas, Faraday Institution CEO, said: “The need for multiple, commercially-available battery technologies has never been greater to meet the needs of almost 800 million people worldwide without access to electricity.

“Investments by FCDO and the Transforming Energy Access programme leverage the Faraday Institution and are delivering cutting edge research on flow- and sodium-ion batteries to advance progress towards sustainable development goals, improving energy access in emerging economies.”