Charging towards gigafactories28 October 2021

Boris Johnson at the BIC

The supply chain is currently building big on batteries, with many gigafactory construction projects gathering pace in the UK and across Europe. By Steed Webzell

According to the Faraday Institution, by 2030 three gigafactories will be necessary to meet the demand for lithium-ion batteries from the UK automotive sector, and possibly eight by 2040. The UK government is aware of the challenge and a number of recent announcements have set the course for more UK battery manufacturing capacity. But there is ground to make up. Germany, Sweden, Poland and Hungary have emerged as leaders by creating favourable business conditions to attract battery manufacturers.

Here in the UK, the big news in recent months is the unveiling of Nissan EV36Zero, a £1 billion flagship Electric Vehicle (EV) hub that includes battery production via a new gigafactory from Envision-AESC. It will deploy integrated AIoT smart technology to monitor and optimise energy consumption, manufacturing and maintenance at its new gigafactory (which will create 750 new jobs), enabling it to rapidly increase production and provide batteries that will power up to 100,000 Nissan electric vehicles a year.

The company already owns and operates Europe’s first battery plant, established at Sunderland in 2012 for the localisation of Nissan LEAF batteries. Envision AESC is now investing £450 million to build the UK’s first gigafactory on the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP), adjacent to the Nissan plant. The formal planning process is about to begin for the initial 9 GWh facility, with construction due to commence next year in support of full production by 2024.

Lei Zhang, founder and CEO of Envision Group, said: “Growth in demand could bring future investment of up to £1.8 billion, additional capacity of 25 GWh and 4,500 jobs by 2030.”

Also racing towards start-up is the planned Britishvolt site in Blyth, Northumberland, a £2.6 billion investment that could provide 3,000 jobs at full capacity. Scheduled to be operational by the end of 2023, the gigafactory, which could reach 30 GWh by 2027, will produce over 300,000 lithium-ion batteries for the UK automotive industry.

Further south, proposals for a gigafactory at Coventry Airport that could be operational by 2025, took a recent step forward following the launch of a public consultation. Predictions suggest that the 5.7 million sq ft plant will represent an investment of up to £2 billion.

Scotland is also playing its part. AMTE Power, a developer and manufacturer of lithium-ion battery cells, will be one of the first commercial customers to use the publicly funded UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC – see box), under a new framework agreement. The move will enable AMTE Power to transition from product development at its battery manufacturing site in Thurso, Scotland, to larger-scale manufacturing at UKBIC in Coventry.

Initially, the focus will be on the development of AMTE Power’s Ultra High-Power cell for high-performance sports cars and high-power off-highway vehicles. However, looking ahead, a key part of the company’s plan centres on the building of a new UK manufacturing facility with a capacity of approximately 2 GWh per annum. The company expects to confirm development plans in 2022.

Apart from local demand, there are other factors behind the need for gigafactories in the UK and mainland Europe. For instance, according to a recent report, the UK’s drive to become a world leader in electrification is set to create a major reshoring opportunity. ‘In Charge’, a Protolabs-backed survey of 200 senior executives from the battery industry, reveals that 84% of UK companies are looking to bring parts of their supply chain closer to their manufacturing base over the next 12 months. In addition, 77% of UK respondents are looking to outsource component production to subcontractors.


The supply chain involves several elements, comprising battery cells, modules and packs. A cluster of cells make up a module and a cluster of modules make up a pack. A BMW i3 passenger car, for example, features a total of 96 electrochemical battery cells: 12 cells combine into one module (a case with terminals), with eight modules fitting under the bonnet in the form of a pack, which (depending on the vehicle) also features electrical connections, cooling equipment and battery management.

Estimates suggest that cells make up 75% of the cost of a battery pack, on average. Cells feature an anode, cathode, separator and electrolyte. A cell’s anode is typically made of graphite, while the electrolyte usually consists of organic carbonate solvents with dissolved lithium salts. The anode is physically and electronically isolated from the cathode by a separator, often a thin porous plastic film through which the liquid electrolyte permeates.

Cathode manufacturing relies on a variety of materials, although lithium is the core element of most solutions. For this reason, it is important for the UK to tap into its own resource. Cornish Lithium, for example, is a mineral exploration company focussing on the extraction of lithium and other battery metals in the mining district of Cornwall, which is one of only five regions worldwide for lithium-enriched granites. It has secured extensive mineral rights agreements across more than 500km2 of Cornwall.

BOX: Prime minister opens UKBIC

The £130 million UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) received its official opening in July by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Based in Coventry, the 18,500sq m development facility is available to organisations working on batteries for electric vehicles, rail, aerospace, industrial and domestic equipment, and static energy storage. UKBIC helps users find out whether it is possible to scale-up their technologies before committing to the huge investment required for mass production. The facility employs more than 80 battery technicians, engineers and support staff. Jeff Pratt, UKBIC’s managing director, said: “UKBIC has been created to fast-track the commercialisation of cost-effective, high-performance, durable, safe, low-weight and recyclable batteries. The battery manufacturing equipment installed covers the whole production process, while the facility also serves as a training centre to help upskill the UK battery sector.”

Steed Webzell

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