Falling behind

C&I Issue 1, 2024

Read time: 3 mins


In the race to build capacity for European battery production, the UK has not been at the front of the pack. The past couple of years have seen projects being announced and then falling by the wayside, in many cases due to a lack of consistency in the UK Government’s approach. There have been promises of funding support which have then melted away.

Meanwhile, during 2023, the UK’s European competitors, particularly France and Germany, made major strides to establish domestic battery production. Back in May 2023, France opened its first electric vehicle battery gigafactory, while in the same month, the German Government provided millions of Euros in aid to battery producer Northvolt, which had previously been looking at investing in the UK.

The French gigafactory, owned by Automotive Cell Company (ACC), itself equally owned by TotalEnergies, automotive manufacturers Stellantis and Mercedes-Benz, received €1.3bn in state funding from France, Germany and Italy, as part of a €7bn plan to build a string of such facilities across these countries.

The French plant is located in the former northern mining area around Lens and is the first of three such plants to be built in the three countries. The French site is scheduled to produce 800,00 batteries/year.

Recently, however, there have been signs that the UK is beginning to take steps to pick up the pace of development of its own battery production. Also in May 2023, the Indian-based Tata group, which owns the automotive manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, indicated that it was looking at the possibility of locating an EV battery production facility in Somerset. The planned 40GWh gigafactory would represent an investment of over £4bn, and with production forecast to begin in 2026, would supply Jaguar Land Rover as well as other UK and European automotive manufacturers.

In September 2023, it was announced that three UK universities would share £3.2m Faraday Battery Challenge (FBC) funding provided by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI): the University of Coventry, University College Birmingham and the University of Newcastle, to support the UK’s regional battery sectors in identifying and addressing relevant skills needs.

Coventry University will lead a consortium, including Enginuity, Warwick Manufacturing Group and the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, to deliver the National Electrifications Skills Forum and Framework (NESFF), while University College Birmingham and Newcastle University will deliver the Battery Workforce Training Initiative.

The NESFF vision is to ensure that the UK workforce has the necessary skills and development to effectively deploy electrification technologies. Its priorities are to identify the skills needed and develop a framework for the delivery of those skills. The consortium will work closely with the Innovate UK Workforce Foresighting Hub and its members as well as other local and national bodies.

Commenting on the funding for the Battery Workforce Training Initiative, Professor Colin Herron, from Newcastle University’s School of Engineering, said: ‘The North-east hosts the UK’s only Li-ion battery plant and with the real possibility of a second battery company opening in the future, there is a clear need for an expanded workforce training capacity and capability.’

‘What is unique about our programme is that battery awareness will be brought to the general public and many thousands of school children by bringing the capabilities of New College Durham, the public sector and Newcastle University together.’

In mid-December 2023, FBC funding support totaling £11m was announced for battery innovation. Grants of up to £907,000 have been awarded for two types of projects, covering early-stage feasibility studies and more advanced research and development.

Among the projects included in the awards were Project Dancer, a collaboration between Echion Technologies and Warwick Manufacturing Group focused on the development of a cell design, using Echion’s fast-charging battery materials to improve Li-ion battery performance; and Project Aeroproof, a collaboration led by Thermulon, in conjunction with the University of Southampton and CPI, to use Thermulon’s superinsulating aerogels to reduce thermal runaway in Li-ion batteries.

In addition to developing new batteries, the Faraday Battery Challenge (FBC) has also provided funding for tackling the problem of future battery waste, which is forecast to reach 730,000t/year by 2030. Funding has been provided for Project LIBerate, led by Cellmine, in collaboration with RS Bruce and the University of St Andrews, which will focus on the recycling of Li-ion battery cathode metals (See also p20).

As Tony Harper, FBC Director, said: ‘The flourishing UK battery technology industry will play a critical role in meeting our net zero targets and decarbonising the transport sector. We want to accelerate its growth, generate high value and high tech jobs, and also support individual projects that have significant potential to improve the performance of batteries.

‘This new round of funding enables us to support companies across the battery supply value chain and build on the UK’s world class research and innovation.’

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