Interfaces Newsletter November 2019

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Welcome to Interfaces, the newsletter from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Sheffield. Every month, we’ll bring you news from the world of Materials, from us and elsewhere, and how discoveries made through the years affect our lives today.

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Next generation of lithium-ion batteries

Engineers at the University of Sheffield are set to develop the next generation of lithium-ion batteries, which could be used to transform the performance and range of electric vehicles, as part of a major new collaborative research project together with Cambridge, Oxford, Lancaster, UCL, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and 11 industry partners.

Following the award of £11 million in funding from the Faraday Institution, researchers led by Professor Serena Corr and Dr Eddie Cussen – joint appointments in the University’s Departments of Materials Science & Engineering and Chemical & Biological Engineering are developing lithium-ion batteries with longer lifespans and increased energy density.

The FutureCat project, which includes researchers from multiple disciplines across four other UK universities and partners in industry, will see the University of Sheffield-led team use a co-ordinated approach to cathode chemistry design, development and discovery to deliver cathodes that hold more charge, are better suited to withstand prolonged cycling and promote ion mobility – all of which could be used to increase the range and acceleration of electric vehicles.

Improved cathode design could also help reduce the dependency of cell manufacturers on cobalt – an element defined by the European Union and United States as a critical raw material, which is expensive and dangerous to source, with miners often working in deadly conditions.

Professor Serena Corr said: “Switching to electric vehicles is one way we can help to reduce global emissions. However, if we are to make this change, we need to produce electric vehicles that are capable of travelling further and have longer lasting batteries.

“Lithium-ion batteries are crucial to the performance and range of electric vehicles and developing existing and new cathodes can ultimately enhance battery performance. Our research is setting ambitious targets to make fundamental breakthroughs that will put us on the path to commercialising a battery with significant improvements to energy and power densities.

“We are also keen to improve the sustainability of lithium-ion batteries and make them more cost-effective. With the ethical, sustainability and cost concerns surrounding cobalt, our project will investigate alternatives to the traditional cobalt containing cathodes. We are investigating a range of new cathode architectures, as well as chemistries, driven by a highly collaborative and interdisciplinary approach.”

In addition to FutureCat, engineers from the University of Sheffield are also research partners in two of four other new research projects announced by the Faraday Institution.

Sheffield engineers will collaborate on a University of Oxford-led project, Nextrode, to revolutionise the way electrodes for lithium-ion batteries are manufactured. This project aims to usher in a new generation of smart, high performance electrodes, which can also boost the range and performance of electric vehicles. Sheffield Chemical and Biological Engineering academic, Dr Denis Cumming, will take on the role of project leader with the Nextrode project.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield are also partners in a project led by the University of St Andrews, Nexgenna, which will accelerate the development of sodium-ion battery technology. The project aims to put on the path to commercialisation a safe sodium-ion battery with high performance, low cost and a long life cycle, which could be used for static energy storage applications and low cost vehicles. As Dr Eddie Cussen from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering explains, “there is a growing demand for alternatives to lithium-ion batteries and sodium presents an exciting and sustainable opportunity.”

The research teams for the projects also feature Professor Tony West, Professor Beverley Inkson, Dr Becky Boston and, Dr Nik Reeves-McLaren from the Department.

Hatfield Memorial Lecture

Mike Lawton

December sees the 67th Hatfield Memorial Lecture take place in the Octagon in Sheffield. This year’s lecture, which takes place on Tuesday 10th December, will be given by Mike Lawton, Founder and CEO of Oxford Space Systems .

Mike’s presentation will be entitled ‘The New Space Race: How Your Future Career Might Just Take You to Orbit & Beyond… ’.

Ever since the launch of the first artificial satellite Sputnik 1 in October 1957, humankind has sought to exploit the region beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The fledgling years of the space industry witnessed the battle between the ideologies of East and West drive the development of space technology in a race to prove technical superiority.

Through the 70s, 80s and 90s space became increasingly the domain of large military and ground-breaking science missions; where only the richest nation states could afford to get off the launch pad. It is only relatively recently that a number of factors have come together to enable the democratisation of space, whereby it is now possible to buy & launch a satellite for the price of a sports car.

In this fast paced lecture, Oxford Space Systems’ CEO and Founder Mike Lawton will explore the dawn of the commercial space age and profile some of the exciting opportunities for technology – and even your career – in new race for space.

To book your free tickets for this event, please visit the website:

NoStraDAMUS – Novel Strategies for Designing Alloyed Metals; University of Sheffield

Metallic alloys have been developed for centuries, if not millennia. Some have been discovered by chance, while others have been formulated by design.

The NoStraDAMUS project will develop a systematic and theoretical approach to discovering new alloy systems which will be of practical significance to a broad range of industries.

The drive to identify new alloy systems is the possibility of discovering a step-change in performance. While experimenting with existing alloy may bring about the potential for iterative improvements, we are walking into the unknown when it comes to untested alloys. We should be able to predict the types of properties (strength, ductility, corrosion resistance, etc) we would expect, but until we try, we will not know for certain.

The approach is based on the ability of different element combinations to mix, and highlights ‘hot-spots’ where the miscibility of the elements shows a strong possibility of forming useful alloys. Avoiding regions where miscibility is limited or does not occur in the binary case in the design of a more complex alloy greatly reduces the number of combinations that might be considered for further investigation, and other techniques allow further targeting of the search before experiments are needed.

This chart shows the first 83 elements on the periodic table, by period, and how well they mix with each other. Click on the image to open an interactive version of the chart.

Taking just two of the first 83 elements in the Periodic Table, with only one selected ratio between them, researchers would be faced with nearly 7,000 possible alloy combinations. When you look at differing proportions, this number increases vastly. Then, considering the possibilities of ternary, quaternary and quinary alloy systems and the number of combinations becomes mind boggling.

A wide range of these alloy systems have been well researched and are in common use. But many are not, and have never been attempted. The purpose of the NoStraDAMUS project is to develop a process whereby untested alloy systems can be identified and further researched.

The project is run by Dr Russell Goodall, and relates to his Leverhulme Research Fellowship, and other alloy design and development research.

One of Dr Goodall’s research interests is the development of High Entropy Alloys, to which the NoStraDAMUS project will contribute greatly.

To find out more about the NoStraDAMUS Project, visit the website:

Additive Manufacturing of magnetic materials proves attractive

Research published earlier this year demonstrated the application of additive manufacturing to closely control the properties of the parts produced.

Dr Felicity Freeman has recently demonstrated how the microstructure of a stainless steel alloy can be tuned during additive manufacturing so that the material’s magnetic properties developed in a controlled manner.

Grade 17-4PH stainless steel parts built by selective laser melting (SLM) can comprise up to 80 wt% retained austenite, compared to conventionally processed 17-4PH, which is primarily martensitic and contains less than 10 wt% retained austenite. The austenite phase is paramagnetic (weakly attracted by a magnetic field, but loses its magnetism when the field is removed), while the martensite phase is ferromagnetic (strongly magnetic and retains its magnetism).

The higher proportion of austenite in the SLM parts is thought to be due to rapid melting and solidification driving austenite fine grain size and suppressing the martensitic transformation start temperature.

However, Dr Freeman and her colleagues have been able to exploit another phenomenon associated with SLM, that of thermal strain, to influence the microstructure of the finished part.

Thermal strain caused by the extreme thermal gradients found in selective laser melting can cause severe distortion of parts, but could also drive solid state phase transformations in susceptible materials.

The researchers examined the possibility that by controlling the thermal strain in a component, it may be possible to use this to control the extent of deformation-driven martensitic transformation and therefore produce a microstructurally and magnetically graded single-composition material.

By controlling the thermal strain, through appropriate selection of build parameters and geometry, they were able to control the final ratio of austenite to martensite. The fully austenitic regions were paramagnetic, while dual-phase regions showed increasingly ferromagnetic behaviour with an increasing proportion of martensite.

The team were able to demonstrate the success of this research by producing a magnetically graded rotor which was run successfully in a synchronous motor.

The full article on this research was published in Materials and Design 161 (2019) pp14-21.

New appointments for the department

Professor John Haycock – Head of Department

The summer months have seen a number of changes in staffing in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, with some changing roles, others moving from elsewhere in the University, and a still more joining from outside.

This reflects our commitment to maintaining the high standards we have achieved across teaching, research, student recruitment, student experience and external engagement.

Professors John Haycock and John Provis have recently been appointed Head and Deputy Head of Department respectively – both appointments from within the Department.

We also have lots of new appointments too:

  • Dr Magnus Anderson – Lecturer in Metallurgy
  • Professor Ipsita Roy – Chair in Biomaterials
  • Dr Luke Benson Marshall – Business and Development Manager Royce@Sheffield
  • Sarah Brown, Finance Officer
  • Zoe Bumford, Research Support Officer
  • Dr Kathy Christofidou – Lecturer in Metallurgy
  • Eric Goodall, Technical Operation Manager, Royce@Sheffield
  • Jenny Helliwell, Senior Finance Officer
  • Oday Hussein – Royce Characterisation Technician
  • Matt Jones – Departmental Administration Manager
  • Kerry McLaughlin – Characterisation Technician
  • Dr Alice Pyne – Lecturer in Polymers and Soft Matter (UKRI/MRC Fellow)
  • Glynn Reynolds – Vacuum and Mechanical Services Technician
  • Amanda Southworth – Recruitment, Outreach and Student Experience Officer
  • Sarah Walker – Post Award Research Manager

The evolution of steam turbines

In the second of his podcasts, MEng Materials Science and Engineering (Research) student James Nohl discusses the development of steam turbines in ships and power generation.

These podcasts form part of our MEng course, and allow students to demonstrate their understanding of what they learn from lectures and self study.

Over to you, James (

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