University of Leicester eBulletin

Young Leicester Engineer's Work Recognised by House of Commons

December 2002
No 272

A University of Leicester Engineering research student has been selected to present his research at a House of Commons event for young engineers.

Jonathan Starkey will display details of his research into a new ultra-fast battery charging system for electric vehicles, with a recharge time of not much longer than the time taken to fill a tank with petrol (for a near-full recharge).
Jonathan Starkey

His project, carried out under the supervision of Lecturer Dr Paul Lefley, is funded by the prestigious Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and Jonathan is in contact with Chloride Industrial Batteries and Tungstone Batteries.

The reception for Britain’s Younger Engineers at the House of Commons on Monday, December 9, 2002 will be hosted by MP Claire Curtis-Thomas. Young engineers attending will be expected to interact and network with each other, explaining their work to non-experts as well as discussing issues with MPs, Parliamentarians and Britain’s younger researchers.

The research chosen covers a wide range of projects, including those that contribute to wealth creation, improve the quality of life or address societal problems.

Jonathan Starkey will be one of a select band of 140 young people under 35 years of age, chosen from applications across the country and from diverse backgrounds in universities, industry, the public sector and government laboratories.

His inclusion in the December 9 reception will mean he will be considered for the UK Medal and £500 prize for Excellence in Engineering by a Younger Engineer.

jonathan starkey

Explaining the significance of his research, Jonathan said: “There is increasing concern over the levels of air pollution in inner city areas, which would be significantly reduced if electric vehicles were more attractive to the general public.  

“This means producing a vehicle with an acceptable range for city use, with low running costs, which is easy to use, fast to recharge and with a reasonable life expectancy for the battery. Traditional charging systems are either slow, or sacrifice battery life for faster charging.

“So if a charging system can be optimised for minimum gas evolution, whilst maintaining a long battery life and reducing the charge time significantly, this will make electric vehicles more acceptable for general public use.”

He has developed a novel high current pulsed lead acid battery charging system that can be recharged as quickly as possible without shortening the battery’s useful life.   The system uses a train of high current pulses, which varies according to the state of charge of the battery.  

Jonathan received a first class honours MEng degree in Engineering from the University of Leicester, during which he was awarded a First Year Scholarship and a Top Flight Scholarship, and as a result of which he received the National Westminster Bank Award for Graduating Engineers. He is a Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers.

Dr Paul Lefley explained:  “The battery charging research at the University of Leicester is an example of an application of pulsed power.   Pulsed power was born in secret in the 1950s, when researchers at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Aldermaston were looking for ways of improving the control of explosions. They came up with an incredibly powerful X-ray machine capable of producing very short bursts of intense X-rays as a way of photographing the inside of an exploding bomb.

“Other examples of pulsed power include particle and electromagnetic accelerators in Ronald Reagan’s SDI programme, and one of the world’s most powerful pulsed lasers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory used to create conditions similar to the inside of the sun.

“Although the examples given here are somewhat dramatic, pulsed power has many other down-to-earth uses.  Pulsed power is already being used to treat cancer by focusing pulses of energy into difficult-to-reach tumours, and intense ultrasonic pulses from lithotripters can be used to blast kidney stones without the need for major surgery. It can also be used for effective removal of pollutants from industrial effluent.  

“However, it only goes to show that there are major benefits to be found in the application of pulsed power, where ordinarily there may only be a steady continuous flow of power. The research team at the University of Leicester have discovered such an application and are perfecting the techniques of applying short pulses of energy to batteries to dramatically speed up the charging times, whilst monitoring the battery to avoid deterioration and shortened life."

NOTE TO EDITORS : Details about the House of Commons reception on December 9 for Britain’s Younger Engineers can be found on the website www.setforeurope.org/engineering.htm.   Further information is available from Jonathan Starkey, telephone 0116 252 2594, email jps12@le.ac.uk, or from Dr Paul Lefley telephone 0116 252 2526, email pwl3@le.ac.uk, facsimile 0116 252 2619.

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Last updated: December 2002
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