Perovskite Phase Change Metamaterial Batteries - Physics - EPSRC DTP funded PhD Studentship Ref: 2962

About the award

This project is one of a number funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Doctoral Training Partnership to commence in September 2018. This project is in direct competition with others for funding; the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding.

The studentships will provide funding for a stipend which is currently £14,553 per annum for 2017-2018. It will provide research costs and UK/EU tuition fees at Research Council UK rates for 42 months (3.5 years) for full-time students, pro rata for part-time students.

Please note that of the total number of projects within the competition, up to 15 studentships will be filled.

Dr. Steven Hepplestone
Prof. Mikhail Portnoi
Prof. Monica Cranciun

Streatham Campus, Exeter

Project Description
This PhD studentship is to carry out a theoretical project in quantum physics exploring the role of rare earth oxides as components in the next generation of batteries. This will enable a greener world in future and better renewable technologies.

Currently, the world is facing an energy crisis.  A key component in this crisis is the lack of a light weight, energy storage mechanism.  The Uk and other governments have announced that they are phasing out petrol and diesel vehicles in the next 30 years to be replaced with electric cars.

The current generation of electric cars is estimated to travel up to 200 miles, which corresponds to roughly an energy density of 300 Wh/kg in the battery.  In order to become really competitive, this needs to rise 500 Wh/kg.  Perovskites and other oxides show huge potential for the cathode material in renewable batteries, but are often held back by phase transitions and lattice strain.  SH has been piloting a scheme where graphene flakes are dispersed in the perovskite lattice, reducing the grain size and thus reducing the difficulties associated with phase pinning.  LiMnO3, LiFePO4, and CaTiO3 both show initial potential, but the inclusion of graphene like regions would allow the CaTiO3 phase greater chance to allow the Ca to dissolve out, and undergo a phase transition to CaXTiO2+X.  Such a cathode would offer a unique method for allowing Ca ions to flow in the device, whilst being stabilised by the graphene flakes [1].  This would forma oxide-graphene metamaterial battery. 

The project envisages using a combination of multiple different perovskites, explored using structure search algorithms and a structure phase predictor.  These perovskites could either be “alloys” or layered, and include graphene layers to limit the grain size.  By limiting the grain size, the phase transitions are anticipated to be lower energy cost, thus allowing the ions to freely leave and return to the cathode and increase cyclability.  Initial calculations will focus on finding potential perovskite candidates that have low diffusion barriers to the ions at the surface.   From this, the operating voltage and the ability of the phases to return upon the return of the ion will be calculated.  The risk factor in this stage is high, but highly rewarding, as smaller grains have been shown to have better diffusion [2], but often preventing the grains merging between cycles is hard to achieve.  This could be done using graphene layers which also provide channels for the ions to move. 

This project is highly ambitious, require the latest techniques in theoretical atomic level physics.  The rewards however, of finding a design with high energy densities of 500 Wh/kg would be like finding the holy grail of the battery community.   Whilst the themes that this project sits in are clear, this project also represents an opportunity for better collaboration between QSN and Engineering.   In the environment of the CDT, both supervisors have had successful students and recognise the invaluable contribution that the soft skills and collaborations which develop have on making a successful project.

[1] Vasu et al. Nature Comm. 7, 12168 (2016).
[2] Malik et al. Nanoletts. 10, 4123 (2010).

Entry Requirements
You should have or expect to achieve at least a 2:1 Honours degree, or equivalent, in Physics, Engineering or Material Science.  Experience in material physics, energy and advanced mathematics is desirable.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the English language requirements and provide proof of proficiency. Click here for more information and a list of acceptable alternative tests.

The majority of the studentships are available for applicants who are ordinarily resident in the UK and are classed as UK/EU for tuition fee purposes.  If you have not resided in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the studentship, you are not eligible for a maintenance allowance so you would need an alternative source of funding for living costs. To be eligible for fees-only funding you must be ordinarily resident in a member state of the EU.  For information on EPSRC residency criteria click here.

Applicants who are classed as International for tuition fee purposes are NOT eligible for funding. International students interested in studying at the University of Exeter should search our funding database for alternative options.


Application deadline:10th January 2018
Value:3.5 year studentship: UK/EU tuition fees and an annual maintenance allowance at current Research Council rate. Current rate of £14,553 per year.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: Doctoral

How to apply

You will be required to upload the following documents:
•       CV
•       Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to
        undertake the project.
•       Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim
        transcript if you are still studying.
•       If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your current
        proficiency in English.  For further details of the University’s English language requirements please see

The closing date for applications is midnight (GMT) on Wednesday 10 January 2018.  Interviews will be held at the University of Exeter in late February 2018.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email:
Project-specific queries should be directed to the supervisor.

During the application process, the University may need to make certain disclosures of your personal data to third parties to be able to administer your application, carry out interviews and select candidates.  These are not limited to, but may include disclosures to:

• the selection panel and/or management board or equivalent of the relevant programme, which is likely to include staff from one or more other HEIs;
• administrative staff at one or more other HEIs participating in the relevant programme.

Such disclosures will always be kept to the minimum amount of personal data required for the specific purpose. Your sensitive personal data (relating to disability and race/ethnicity) will not be disclosed without your explicit consent.