UK battery sector facing US threat

C&I Issue 5, 2023

Read time: 2 mins. Image: AMTE Power

Simon Frost

AMTE Power, a Scottish battery producer responsible for developing some of the world’s first lithium-ion batteries, has warned that new incentives being offered for green technologies in the US could make it difficult for battery companies to justify basing production in the UK.

Last year, the company announced the preferred site for its first ‘Gigafactory’ in Dundee, Scotland, claiming that the facility would ‘directly create up to 215 high-skilled on-site jobs and 800 more across the supply chain by producing the high-performance battery cells needed to help electrify vehicles, homes, and industries for the UK’s energy transition’.

However, AMTE Power CEO Alan Hollis has now warned that the unprecedented set of green subsidies being offered in the US through the multibillion dollar Inflation Reduction Act could lead UK companies to base manufacturing on the other side of the Atlantic.

Hollis explained, ‘Like any good business, we are always monitoring the wider market and must factor the global context into our considerations’.

Though he was quick to add that AMTE has no plans to relocate and that Dundee remains the preferred site for its Gigafactory, Hollis warned that, ‘Developing an end-to-end industrial strategy which accounts for the full scope of battery demand and production, from raw materials sourcing through to end-of-life management and recycling is essential [...] We need the right support from government to allow the UK to compete on the world stage.’

SCI's Energising the UK Battery Supply Chain webinar series has brought together stakeholders from across the UK battery sector to discuss the challenges and opportunites.

Speaking to C&I, Matt Stock, Head of Battery Technology for the Faraday Battery Challenge (FBC), said: ‘A successful battery manufacturing project requires capital to both build and operate, but also needs a skilled workforce, proximity to customers, localised supply chain, and access to a pipeline of technology innovation from start-ups and academia. Although US subsidies for large-scale projects are attractive, they only represent part of the equation.’

‘The UK remains competitive, with a strong automotive sector featuring high-value brands like JLR and Aston Martin, a world-class battery start-up ecosystem, prestigious academic sector driving cutting-edge technology development, and companies like Nexeon, Echion, and EV Metals Group developing and scaling the supply chain of cutting edge materials. This said, scaling up manufacturing is both challenging and capital-intensive, and comes with risks such as inflationary pressures, so wide-ranging support for these projects is key to success.’

Stock noted that the FBC bolsters the UK’s competitiveness by investing in and developing the ecosystem. Through Innovate UK, Stock explained, the FBC funds collaboration projects between industry and academia, and major facilities including the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre in Coventry – the national manufacturing development facility to bring technologies to market; and the Faraday Institution in Oxfordshire, which focuses on early-stage electrochemical energy storage research.

Battery materials workshop
SCI Members can attend the upcoming Battery Materials - getting the funding to move faster webinar for free. Following this webinar, SCI's Materials for Mobility Group will host the final event in the series in person at UKBIC, Coventry.

‘Through the collaborative research and development programme a number of projects have been funded to support AMTE in bringing their project forward, totalling nearly £2.7 million of grant funding, including to develop active materials, improving the manufacturability of their technology, as well as scaling up their cells, and providing funding for the feasibility study for the proposed gigawatt facility.’

‘The FBC is also working to support international investment in the UK, and funding competitions to develop the skilled workforce needed for battery manufacturing projects, as part of efforts to deliver comprehensive support for the UK sector.’

In April, two US startup companies, Group14 Technologies and Sila Nanotechnologies, announced major manufacturing projects due to come on stream over the next two years, both focusing on innovative silicon-rich anodes designed to greatly reduce charging times and increase driving range.

Stock however notes that, ‘In the UK, Nexeon is also developing and scaling their advanced silicon technology, which is anticipated to rival the performance of these companies' innovations. Nexeon's technology is already being supplied to leading global battery manufacturers and OEMs, and in 2022 they closed a significant funding round, which they stated will be used to boost their manufacturing capacity to “tens of thousands of metric tonnes annually”.’

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has made clear his opposition to new subsidies in the UK, telling Sky News in April that they could undermine the economy and even trigger a protectionist trade war. AMTE boss Hollis concluded, ‘The UK has a fantastic opportunity but it needs to grasp it now.’

Become an SCI Member to receive benefits and discounts

Join SCI