Patrik Johansson is professor at the Department of Physics and one of Sweden's most prominent battery researchers. His focus is on exploring new concepts and solutions for batteries – and that is also what he will do within the context of the Swedish Research Council’s Distinguished Professor Programme.
The extensive grant means that he, as research leader, can build on already existing projects within his research group, but also explore new possibilities within the framework of what the project's title signals: the next generation of batteries.
“As a battery researcher it can be easy to just look at the products that exist already today, and thus productize your thinking, especially due to the great interest in society for the ongoing electrification of everything and anything. Your focus turns to short term solutions, in order to help different actors solve whatever problems they are having here and now. That is of course something that has to be done – but as a researcher you also have a responsibility to resist this way of acting and focus on finding concepts that are favourable in a longer time perspective – more of revolution than evolution, says Patrik Johansson.
“The grant gives me the opportunity to try a lot of fundamentally different things, which you may not always be able to say later on that you have "succeeded with", but which you in turn learned all the more from and which have been really challenging. And that is successful in itself; discovering the concept space is probably just as important. A special driving force for me personally is to try to get the research group to get far with small and simple ideas – quite challenging today when a lot of research is made large and complicated. The grant is also important to me as a research leader to build our operation, to lead it forward strategically, and to plan for what competencies are needed for a broader and at the same time deeper scope. However, my research itself has not in any way improved by me getting a distinguished professor grant, says Patrik Johansson with a laugh.
Batteries that meet the energy needs of the future
The battery that is in vogue today is without a doubt the lithium-ion battery, which is found in everything from mobile phones to electric cars and electric ferries. But to meet the mobile and also stationary needs of the future for energy storage in the best way – readily available energy with high quality – large electrochemical energy storage solutions, i.e. batteries, will be needed. Here Patrik Johansson sees that we need to think afresh; perhaps create new types of batteries based on more common metals, such as sodium, calcium or aluminium? Or organic batteries?
“Today, electrification is being built up in a lot of different sectors and everything is based on lithium-ion batteries. We already see this year that the price of lithium-ion batteries, which has fallen sharply for a long time, is now levelling out. In the long run, it's probably about sustainability. If you can then launch one or more complementary battery technologies that are cheaper, safer, or simply just different – there may be advantages for a battery to for example work at 80 rather than 25 degrees Celsius – there is much to be gained. Today battery researchers in general are not looking in that direction, which my research group will now do. Concept creation is always based on fundamental material physics, but also requires great methodological knowledge and application understanding, says Patrik Johansson.
Conceptually different batteries
Battery research is a field that is developing rapidly. What was in vogue five years ago has already passed in many ways, in terms of exploration of materials, methods and concepts. Likewise, society's needs are changing at a rapid pace – ten years ago there was hardly any talk of electric cars or electric aircraft, today the issue of electrification is dominant in the development of society. So where are we in 2030, to which is the year the Distinguished Professor Programme extends?
“It is of course very difficult to predict, but what we want for 2030 is something that is conceptually different and not just a refinement of existing technology. Whether that change then may be at the battery, material or functionality level – so be it. What I wish us to have achieved in ten years' time is that we have found two or three new concepts that hold up to a critical examination and at least have the potential to complete the step from research to technology. And that we have maintained our curiosity and long-term perspective.”
About the Distinguished Professor grant:
- The purpose of the Swedish Research Council's Distinguished Professor Programme is to create conditions for the most prominent researchers to conduct long-term, innovative research with great potential to achieve scientific breakthroughs. The grant must also enable the establishment and construction of a larger research environment of the highest quality around a leading researcher.
- This year, three new distinguished professors within natural and engineering sciences were appointed, who were granted a total of more than SEK 147 million for the years 2021–2030. Read more about the grant on the Swedish Research Council's homepage.
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Text: Lisa Gahnertz
Photo: Anna-Lena Lundqvist