Can Batteries Ever Be Good, Safe and Cheap?

16 AUGUST 2023
Dr Mohd Azri Ab Rani
In no other period in history has the topic of batteries been more popular than in the past year.  However, the quest to produce low-cost batteries with excellent performance and high safety is a triple shot that continues to evade the best of minds. But I am optimistic that research collaboration is the way to make this a reality - where someday, sodium-ion (Na+ ion) batteries would be affordable, accessible and available to help address many of the world’s challenges. And the Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment has taken me one step closer to materialising this dream.

Three steps forward, two steps back..
During my postgraduate years at Imperial College, I was trained to produce highly pure ionic liquids which are applied as electrolytes in battery design and development. As my interest in this field grew, I went under the tutelage of Prof Rika Hagiwara at Kyoto University, one of the world’s most renowned lead researchers for Na+ ion batteries. [Note: The sodium-ion battery belongs to the category of rechargeable batteries employing sodium ions (Na+) as their charge carriers. In comparison to lithium-ion batteries, sodium-ion batteries offer a relatively lower cost, improved safety features, and comparable power delivery characteristics. However, they do have a lower energy density.]

When first presented with the Grant, my intention was to be mentored by the “God of Batteries”, Prof. John B Goodenough Walker at the University of Texas. In the year that I secured the grant, Prof  Goodenough was also conferred the Nobel Laureate in Chemistry and since every scientist in the field of batteries looked up to him, my email was in the long list of those looking to work under his supervision.

Therefore, I made the decision to change my attachment to a different research institute. Just as I was completing my attachment, the legendary Prof John B Goodengough passed away at the age of 100 years old.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), U.S.A was my next option. Just as I was accepted to be a visiting scholar, COVID-19 weighed in.

The invitation letter from MIT.

So… after some rearrangements, I found myself back at Imperial College London, United Kingdom, working at one of the best chemistry departments in the world. I was acutely aware that I had very limited time to design, experiment and complete 3 ionic liquids within a one month window. Imperial’s policies were strict: no working in the lab alone, and it was off limits on the weekends. There was no room for mistakes and I was determined to achieve my objectives. Thankfully, with a detailed work plan and unreserved commitment, I managed to synthesize all the ionic liquids to be used in the battery application. My formative training and discipline at Imperial, coupled with good supervision, helped make all of this possible!

My Imperial ID Card, valid until 2059. Am I going to be a perpetual visiting researcher at Imperial?

Imperial College London

The ionic liquids. Objective achieved. Yes, I did it!

Working at a world class university among the best Chemistry Departments in the world

The man behind every successful experiment. Thank you Dr Spiros!

Formulation To Fabrication: From UK to Australia
Now that the synthesized ionic liquids could be used as an electrolyte for Na+ ion batteries, they needed to be tested in a “working” model. There was no better place to do this than at a world-class facility for advanced battery design, fabrication and testing located at the Battery Research and Innovation Hub, in Deakin University, Australia. This is where pilot-scale fabrication and the commercialisation of energy storage technologies are available on the University premises  - making this one of the few places in the world where research output can be translated into real-life prototypes.

During my 2-month stint, I also met with many battery research scientists from all over the world - including those from Japan, China, the U.K, Spain and India - as more than 70 researchers work here on battery technology for future generations.

The ID Staff Card with the signboard of the Deakin University Research & Innovation Hub

At the Battery Research and Innovation Hub, Deakin University

The pilot facility in the university where all the research output is translated to product

Battery testing facilities

Fabricating the batteries

Checking the solubility of the electrolytes for Na+ ion batteries

Measuring the conductivity of the electrolyte

I finally fabricated my own batteries!

Mix and Match: The perfect formula
The weekends provided an opportunity for me to step out and discover other interests and appreciate the local culture. Almost naturally, I found myself attending a perfumery course, mixing and matching solutions – this time for bodily application instead of battery application!

While I didn’t have a surfboard, I soaked in nature in the beautiful Australian outback on some weekends - as being near the sea - an abundant source of sodium, was a constant reminder of how far we can go with alternative solutions for battery technology.
The Merdeka Award Grant for International Attachment has allowed me to pursue what I truly love, while making change for the better.

Tired of the chemical smell on weekdays, I joined a perfumery class on the weekend, with hopes for a “Bateri Wangi” in future?

Celebrating my weekend by participating the perfumery class

Dirty Angel scent on making

Designed my own perfume under the guidance of everyone’s favourite perfumer, Emma.

Feeding an Australian icon

Enjoying the beauty of Australia

The rugged outdoors of Australia



Dr Edison Lee Tian Khoon
Dr Edison headed to Sweden’s Uppsala University, where he joined the Department of Chemistry, Ångström Laboratory, as part of his attachment stint. He is currently carrying out active research in polymer electrolyte and nanomaterials for Lithium-ion batteries. Read more about him here:
Innovating the Energy Ecosystem
Chrishen R. Gomez
Having attended the prestigious Ivy League Brown University as part of his attachment programme, 27-year-old Chrishen is now with the Wildlife Research and Conservation Unit at Oxford University. Chrishen is busy developing a genetic-based research project on the Sunda Clouded Leopard. Read more about him here: Conserving Our Forests & Future
Dr Zetty
Dr Zetty is currently working on anti-cancer compounds found in Malaysian seaweed and has continued to pursue her original project proposal of microalgae vaccine carriers for fish. A working solution has been patented by Dr Zetty and will be deployed within the coming year.
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