Michael the supercomputer joins battery research team

Michael the supercomputer joins team to battery research

A new supercomputer called Michael has joined the team at the Faraday Institution, to help speed up research on two of the UK’s most important battery research projects.

Michael – named after Michael Faraday, the UK’s most famous battery scientist and the institution’s namesake – can reach 265 teraflops at peak performance. The £1.6 million supercomputer has been installed at University College London (UCL) and will flex its computing muscle to help more than 110 researchers focused on creating new models for battery systems and researching next-generation, solid-state batteries.

Michael offers much needed capacity to UK researchers who are working to solve some of the thorniest problems in energy storage. The Faraday Institution, funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), purchased the supercomputer and is funding its associated running costs.

“This new supercomputer will be a valuable resource for the UK’s battery researchers, providing them with the insight necessary to improve battery performance and lifetime and reduce costs,” says UKRI Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport.

“UK Research and Innovation recognises the importance of access to world-leading infrastructure for academia and industry, and that resources such as the Michael supercomputer are central to our mission of pushing the frontiers of human knowledge and delivering economic and societal impact.”

Developing more accurate simulations of batteries will give researchers and their industry partners the ability to design advanced batteries without the cost of creating numerous prototypes to test every new material, or new type and configuration of the cells that make up a battery pack. Simulations also offer valuable insight into how existing materials work, enabling scientists to identify the limiting processes and develop rational strategies to overcome them. Models for control will enable battery lifetime and performance to be improved and reduce the cost of existing and future packs. Of note to prospective owners of electric vehicles, improved computer simulations of battery performance will increase the rate at which improvements, for example, to vehicle cost, charging rates or range, are made to commercial models, accelerating the rate of mass-market adoption.

Using Michael, researchers will routinely be able to run their simulations overnight, rather than having to wait, in some cases, weeks or even months, before being able to do so. As such, Michael will accelerate the research process and shorten the timescale over which advances can be made. The first challenges to be tackled by the team include the fast-charging of batteries, low temperature operation and thermal management of cells within battery packs.

The new supercomputer will be exclusively dedicated to Faraday Institution projects. Around 85% of the available computing time initially has been allocated to researchers on the Multi-scale Modelling project, who will access the facility from UCL, Imperial College London, and five other universities in the UK.

Michael is being housed alongside UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Hub for Materials and Molecular Modelling (known as Thomas). While the Faraday Institution’s supercomputer will be on a separate platform, it will share the same architecture and software stack as Thomas, making it easier for researchers to move existing models and research over to the new platform.

What is a teraflop?

A flop is an acronym for ‘floating point operations per second’. A floating point is a number with a decimal point, so the number of those a computer can do per second is a way computer scientists can measure computing power. To give you an idea of Michael’s abilities, a megaflop is a million of the above, a gigaflop is a billion, a teraflop is a trillion. That’s fast.

Faraday Institution

Powering Britain’s battery revolution, the Faraday Institution is the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage science and technology, supporting research, training, and analysis. Bringing together expertise from universities and industry, the Faraday Institution endeavours to make the UK the go-to place for the research and development of the manufacture and production of new electrical storage technologies for both the automotive and wider relevant sectors.

The first phase of the Faraday Institution is funded by UKRI’s EPSRC through ISCF.

The ‘Faraday Battery Challenge’ is to develop and manufacture batteries for the electrification of vehicles – £246 million over four years – to help UK businesses seize the opportunities presented by the move to a low carbon economy. The challenge will be split into three elements: research, innovation, and scale-up. It is among the first of six investment areas announced by the government to be funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.