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Queen Mary researcher awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship

15 October 2020

Dr Sobrido
Dr Sobrido
Dr Ana Jorge Sobrido from Queen Mary University of London has today been named as one of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellows for her work to develop innovative energy storage systems.

The £1.4m Future Leaders Fellowship (FLF) award will support Dr Sobrido’s research to develop next-generation flow batteries capable of storing large amounts of excess energy from sustainable sources, helping to move the UK away from fossil fuels.

Commenting on the announcement, Dr Sobrido, a Senior Lecturer in Energy Materials at Queen Mary’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, said: “As we move towards ‘greener’ renewable energy solutions, the ability to store energy becomes increasingly important. This funding will support a novel research programme, which aims to deliver the intelligent and flexible energy storage technologies urgently required to overcome temporal and local deviations in energy production and consumption.

“I am delighted to receive this fellowship. It is highly timely in helping me shape my career and pave the way towards me becoming a leader in an emerging field, and be able to inspire the next generations of researchers. I believe there is a pressing need for a shift of focus towards grid-scale energy storage and I seek to use my FLF as a platform to lead further initiatives in this area over the next few years.”

Professor Hazel Screen, Head of the School of Engineering and Materials Science at Queen Mary, added: “It’s great that Ana has been recognised for her ground breaking research, and will receive the support and funding she needs to develop her career, and become a research and innovation leader. Developing engineering solutions that enable the UK to effectively use renewable energy sources and move away from fossil fuels is of great importance and within the School of Engineering and Materials Science Ana is one of several researchers we have working to address challenges in this area.”

Grid-scale storage for renewable energy

Wind power and solar energy are promising alternatives to fossil fuels and support worldwide efforts to decarbonise energy generation. However, unlike fossil fuel-based methods of energy generation, renewably sourced energy is generated discontinuously. For example, wind turbines are only able to produce energy in the right weather conditions. As a result, this type of energy production creates a big demand for energy storage, and is not supported by current electricity grids.

Redox flow batteries (RFBs) are well suited for large-scale energy storage, combining desired features such as long cycle life, high reliability, and low maintenance. Whilst they present a commercially attractive and flexible platform for the UK's future energy storage, the current polyacrylonitrile-based carbon electrodes used in these systems are less than ideal, and result in low efficiency systems.

Supported by the Future Leaders Fellowship, Dr Sobrido aims to develop sustainable electrodes for advanced flow batteries, including solar flow batteries and metal-air flow batteries. These innovative technologies could be key to the search for alternative energy conversion and storage systems with high energy densities and improved efficiency. Being able to combine the use of solar energy and flow battery technology could open new avenues to storing energy at large scale.

About UKRI’s Future Leaders Fellowship scheme

The Future Leaders Fellowships scheme is designed to establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across the UK. UKRI’s initiative aims to support the creation of a new cohort of research and innovation leaders who will have links across different sectors and disciplines. The grant supports challenging and novel projects, and the development of the fellow’s career.

The new fellows, based at UK universities and businesses, will be supported through an investment of £109 million.

Announcing the successful fellows at today’s Future Leaders Conference, Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “We are committed to building back better through research and innovation, and supporting our science superstars in every corner of the UK.

“By backing these inspirational Future Leaders Fellows, we will ensure that their brilliant ideas can be transferred straight from the lab into vital everyday products and services that will help to change all our lives for the better.”
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Updated by: David Lockwood