Drax teams with Sheffield Uni on battery research drive

Drax, a U.K-based power group, has lent its backing to three University of Sheffield research projects focusing on battery technology, grid integration and cleaner energy.

The firm is to sponsor three PhD projects at the university’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy Storage, where the aim is to develop a greater understanding of how flow batteries can support the national U.K. grid and deliver greater flexibility to the country’s power system.

“This collaboration with the University of Sheffield will provide us with insights that I believe could help us to deliver better, smarter solutions for our future energy needs,” said Drax Group Research and Innovation Team head Jason Shipstone. “Flexibility is already important for the U.K.’s electricity system, but it’s going to become vital as we continue to decarbonize and more electric vehicles take to the roads. Without the right storage and flexibility the U.K.’s power systems will struggle to meet the increasing demand.”

The partnership will place a particular emphasis on flow batteries and how they may offer certain benefits at grid scale when compared to other battery technologies, such as lithium-ion. Researchers at the university believe that they can nurture flow batteries’ potential for longer life, faster charging and higher storage capacities.

Drax’s role will involve its retail businesses – Haven Power and Opus Energy – which already works with customers in the U.K. to help manage their electricity bills. The PhD topics that are to receive Drax sponsorship also include examining customer interactions with vehicle-to-grid systems using smart technology – an area of innovation that will become increasingly important as more EVs hit British roads and act as a fleet of storage receptacles.

Beginning this month, the research work will be carried out over the next three years and the partnership follows the creation last week of the Faraday Institution – a £65 million storage innovation drive comprising seven university partners each tasked with developing new storage strategies, chemistries and approaches.

The Faraday Institution was launched as part of a wider government battery investment strategy that will see £246 million ($321 million) poured into the sector over the next few years.

Drax, meanwhile, has begun exploring the possibility of building the world’s largest stationary battery: its mooted 200 MW battery would be located at a coal plant in North Yorkshire that is currently being reimagined as a biomass generating plant.

“We are at the start of the planning process but, if developed, these options for gas and battery storage show how Drax could upgrade our existing infrastructure to provide capacity, stability and essential grid services, as we do with biomass,” said Drax Power CEO Andy Koss.