New reporting from The Guardian claims that the West Midlands, south Wales, and the north-east of England are among the regions all vying to be home to the United Kingdom’s first battery gigafactory, part of a £1 billion automotive transformation bid by the country.
According to The Guardian, industry actors are growing impatient with the UK Government which has yet to fully commit to EV batteries, despite a vague £1 billion committed for an Automotive Transformation Fund.
Gigafactories – a term coined by industry darling Elon Musk which simply refers to a large battery manufacturing facility – are expected to be a key component in any major economy’s efforts to transition towards a low carbon way of life, but without government backing are left reliant solely upon industry to take up the mantle.
Which is not to say that industry is not taking up the mantle, but government backing and financial support is vital if the automotive industry, for example, is to be able to transition quickly enough to the large-scale battery manufacturing required to deliver anticipated demand.
Carmakers around the world are finding themselves under increasing pressure to offer more electric vehicle options, which in turn requires ever more EV batteries.
As current demand increases, future demand is made more secure, and when future demand is secured, governments and industry are more willing to make long-term commitments.
“You’ve got to look at the demand picture,” said Julian Hetherington, director of automotive transformation at the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), the body in charge of disbursing UK government investment in the sector, speaking to The Guardian. “People will make commitments when they’re certain they’ll have offtake [of batteries].”
The APC, along with Innovate UK, as well as the UK’s Departments for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and for International Trade, outlined the Automotive Transformation Fund earlier this year, a new programme which has allocated £1 billion “to put the UK at the centre of the global transition to zero emissions.”
Specifically, the Fund is intended to “support the large-scale industrialisation of an electrified supply chain.”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to The Guardian, is expected to address the automotive sector with a 10-point plan as soon as this week, while the newspaper speculated that a commitment to support a gigafactory in one of the country’s regions could form part of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review on 25 November.
In fact, according to the most recent reports, Boris Johnson’s government is set to bring forward a ban on petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030.
Currently, the majority of the world’s EV batteries are being made overseas – with China, Japan, and South Korea accounting for 85% of the world’s EV battery manufacturing, according to an October Greenpeace report – which risks automotive employment shrinking in markets which are not manufacturing their own EV batteries.
If countries traditionally used to manufacturing ICE vehicles suddenly find themselves no longer manufacturing key components for EV vehicles, a major component of a country’s economy and workforce could suffer.
Plans for British gigafactories are few and far between. Currently, EV battery manufacturing in the UK is led by a 2GWh annual capacity factory alongside Nissan’s car factory in Sunderland.
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.
However, the biggest plans currently in the open are those between British start-ups AMTE Power and Britishvolt, who signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in May which could eventually yield a gigafactory with a potential 35GWh capacity.