A potentially landmark agreement to explore the construction of an electric car “gigafactory” has been signed between two UK startups, AMTE Power and Britishvolt.
The growth of the electric car industry in the UK as car makers wind down petrol and diesel car production has sparked a warning from the UK government-backed Faraday Institution that without more investment in the local battery manufacturing industry, a major opportunity in the form of more than 100,000 jobs could be missed.
Currently, the UK electric car battery industry is led by a battery factory alongside Nissan’s car factory in Sunderland with an annual 2GWh capacity.
A joint venture announced in 2018 between Williams Advanced Engineering and Unipart Manufacturing Group outlined a plan to build another battery making facility in Coventry to build 10,000 battery packs a year, and Unipart has also been chosen as a key player in Jaguar Land Rover’s battery assembly plant.
But these are small fry, in light of the recently released Faraday report which suggests the UK needs to manufacture some 130GWh of electric car batteries a year if it is to maintain its position as the fourth largest car maker in Europe.
If successful, the new memorandum of understanding between AMTE Power and Britishvolt would see as much as £4 billion invested in a new “gigafactory” with a potential 35GWh capacity, enough to rival the likes of Northvolt which has plans to output 32GWH a year at its Swedish battery factory in Skellefteå by 2024, and 24GWH from its German factory in Salzgitter.
While its still a far cry from plans of true electric car battery giants such as the proposed 60GWh that China’s CATL intends to output at its German factoryin Erfurt, or LG Chem’s planned 70GWh in Wroclaw, Poland, AMTE Power and Britishvolt’s vision is big.
“We are delighted to be working with Britishvolt exploring the creation of a large scale manufacturing facility in the UK,” said Kevin Brundish, CEO at AMTE Power in a statement of the proposed battery factory, which it is diplomatically referring to as a “GigaPlant”.
“The recent global crisis has further highlighted the importance of having a robust onshore supply chain, and the creation of a GigaPlant would place the UK in a strong position to service automotive and energy storage markets.
“The scalable production of lithium ion cells is key to electrifying vehicles and would drive new manufacturing revenues and new employment, and can be built on AMTE’s focus on the supply of specialised cells, thereby continuing the country’s tradition of excellence in battery cell innovation.”
For the relatively young Britishvolt, the chance to align with Scottish AMTE Power, which began life as AGM Batteries Limited, a joint vcenture between Mitsubishi Materials and AEA Technology, GS (GS Yuasa), is a potential coup.
“Aligning our objectives with AMTE Power, who are looking to add to their current manufacturing capabilities in the UK, our ambition is to build a 30+ gigawatt hour factory with the support of the British Government, creating up to 4,000 jobs in the proces,” said Lars Carlstrom, Britishvolt CEO, in a statement.
“Meeting Road to Zero targets and moving the UK into a low carbon economy will necessitate the unprecedented electrification of vehicles, and reliance on renewable energy will require extensive battery storage.
“It is costly and carbon-intensive to have lithium ion batteries imported from the Far East, and this GigaPlant would cement a solid onshore supply chain to ensure quality and eliminate future uncertainty of supply.”
But it will take work. According to The Guardian, AMTE Power is initially looking to expand its operations which currently include a small battery plant near Thurso, Scotland to include a 1GWh plant either in Dundee oe Teesside, while Britishvolt is considering five sites for a 10GWh capacity plant to be followed by a further 20GWh depending on funding.
Ian Constance, CEO of APC, who introduced the two companies thinks that changes in UK consumer perception of electric vehicles as well as technological advances in battery innovation mean the market landscape is ripe.
“The UK is a highly credible location for green growth investment,” Constance said in a statement.
“It has a rich and diverse supply chain, a rapidly decarbonising energy supply and an innovation culture, and government support through a strong industrial strategy.
“As the pace and scale of change accelerates towards new net zero targets the UK is in a prime position to design, develop, manufacture and export high-value battery technologies. It is a positive testament that AMTE power and Britishvolt recognise the full potential of the UK and have identified it as a priority for their battery industrialisation explorations.”
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Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.