The UK government appears in talks with six companies to build gigawatt-scale battery factories for electric cars. The discussions include US carmaker Ford and Korean companies LG and Samsung, according to local media.
Reports in the Guardian and the Financial Times consider the talks at an “early stage” and involving the government and local authorities. They also name Nissan, InoBat and Britishvolt as potential partners for the large-scale battery production in Britain.
Britishvolt had made plans for a battery factory in Blyth in Northumberland official already in December, but still needs capital. The chosen site is near Nissan’s plant in Sunderland, where the carmaker builds the Leaf electric car. This is a change of initial plans which saw the company wanting to set up shop in Wales. Now confirmed, the Northumberland “gigaplant” will cover a 95-hectare site, formerly the location of the Blyth Power Station. Britishvolt also wants to use renewable energy, including the potential to use hydroelectric power generated in Norway and transmitted through the North Sea Link project. The cable will come out at Blyth.
Staying close to Nissan, other reports from May also see the Chinese battery manufacturer Envision AESC building an EV battery factory next to the Sunderland plant. Nissan had sold its battery subsidiary AESC to Envision Group in 2018 but still holds a minority stake.
The new battery factory from AESC is due to open in 2024 and will initially have an annual capacity of six GWh – more than three times that of the existing plant, which currently has a capacity of 1.9 GWh a year. Later, capacity could be increased to between 18 and 20 GWh.
The most recent reports also name InoBat Auto as part of the circle of potential Gigafactories. The company now has apparently secured pre-emptive planning permission with the West Midlands Combined Authority for a facility in Coventry. Plans for a wide-reaching PPP (private-public partnership) between the city, the metropolitan region and the airport first made the news in February without naming a manufacturer. With Inobat now on board, production may as well start as planned by 2025. Should plans go ahead, Inobat could then supply Coventry-based JLR, owned by India’s Tata. However, Tata has not yet disclosed its plans for longer-term battery sourcing. At the same time, Jaguar reportedly will become an all-electric car brand by 2025, and Land Rover targets launching six all-electric models from 2024.
For Ford in the current talks, the question is where to source batteries for its new Transit Custom van models, writes the Guardian. The company discontinued production of cars in the UK in 2001 but makes engines for Transits at its Dagenham plant, which are then shipped to Turkey.
One option under consideration was to duplicate that relationship but with batteries, the Financial Times reported. The Guardian added that a facility in Dagenham could benefit from the site’s inclusion in the Thames freeport, which offers a range of tax breaks to companies who invest.
Ford told the paper that a decision on battery sourcing would be made closer to the new model’s launch in 2023.
LG and Samsung have yet to comment, and their involvement remains unclear.
The background to all the above plans is that the British government has identified investment in battery factories as a key objective to secure jobs in the automotive industry. The move mirrors similar advances on the continent, which are, however, further ahead.
Europe has 15 large-scale battery cell factories under construction, such as Northvolt’s plants in Sweden and Germany, Chinese battery maker CATL’s German facility in Erfurt, and South Korean firm SK Innovation’s second plant in Hungary. Tesla is, of course, also planning to build both cars and batteries at Giga Berlin in Germany.