Coventry steps up battery battle

Coventry steps up battery battle

Business news |
By Nick Flaherty

The £130m (€150m) UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) was officially opened yesterday, on the same day that permission was given for a battery gigafactory to be built on a nearby airport.

The 18,500 square metre national battery centre has been working on a range of technologies with over 80 battery technicians, engineers, and support staff and a pilot line for battery production.

The aim of the UKBIC centre it to support any organisation working on batteries for electric vehicles, rail, aerospace, industrial and domestic equipment and static energy storage to scale up production before committing to the huge investment required for mass production.

The challenge though is to raise the billions of pounds needed to build the gigafactories, a significant step up from the £130m for for UKBIC or reported £100m for the AESC Envision plant for Nissan in Sunderland. The UK Government has made up to £500m funding available for a gigafactory, which the West Midlands will be bidding for in due course on the back of the opening of the new centre. 

“Completed at deliberate speed during the pandemic, UKBIC is a key part of the UK Government’s Faraday Battery Challenge, created to fast track the commercialisation of cost-effective, high-performance, durable, safe, low-weight and recyclable batteries,” said Jeff Pratt, UKBIC’s Managing Director.

“The battery manufacturing equipment installed covers the whole production process from electrode manufacturing, cylindrical and pouch cell assembly, to formation aging and testing and battery modules and packs.  The facility is also a training centre to upskill the UK battery sector,” he said.

“The Faraday Institution believes that the equivalent of seven large gigafactories will be needed in the UK and employment in the automotive industry and battery supply chain could grow from 170,000 to 220,000 by 2040,” he added.

This is consistent with the call last week from the UK car industry for six battery gigafactories and the region is also planning its own factory.

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In addition to funding from the Faraday Battery Challenge through UK Research and Innovation, UKBIC is also part-funded through the West Midlands Combined Authority which is backing the gigafactory next door.

Next: Battery gigafactory plans approved

A planning application for a 5.7m sq ft battery manufacturing and recycling gigafactory at Coventry Airport has been submitted by joint venture partners, Coventry City Council and Coventry Airport. This would create 6,000 new jobs and tens of thousands more in the supply chain that includes companies such as Jaguar Landrover (JLR), BMW and Aston Martin Lagonda.

“The submission of a planning application for a Gigafactory is the important next step as we seek to deliver battery production for the West Midlands. We have worked with regional partners and industry experts at pace to deliver outline proposals for a world-leading facility, powered by green energy, and ready for investment,” said Cllr George Duggins, Leader of Coventry City Council.

“There is increasing pressure to ensure the UK is ready to take advantage of electrification and together the West Midlands is seizing the initiative to deliver for UK PLC as part of a Green Industrial Revolution. We are the ideal location for a Gigafactory as the home of the UK automotive sector, alongside world-leading research in battery technology.” 

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “It is mission-critical that the West Midlands secures a Gigafactory, both for the future of our region’s automotive industry and the huge economic and job benefits it would bring, as well as the future of our planet. I am therefore delighted that after years of collaborative work, we have now been able to reach this milestone moment of formally submitting a planning application for our preferred site.

“By driving forward with our plans and going through the planning process now, we are trying to get everything in place for when a commercial negotiation between supplier and customer concludes, meaning we can move quickly to get the site operational as soon as possible.

“The West Midlands is already home to the country’s biggest car manufacturer, Europe’s largest research centre of its kind, the UK’s only battery industrialisation centre, and a world-leading supply chain. A Gigafactory therefore is the natural next step for the UK’s automotive heartland, and I will not rest until we have secured one,” he said in a clear message to the North east.

This follows the announcement of a battery Gigafactory in the North-East UK for Nissan and plans in that region for a plant from BritishVolt. This week also saw announcements from Verkor in France on a pilot line for Renault and Svolt for a European battery Gigafactory for Stellantis.

This centre is an important part of the Faraday Battery Challenge at UK Research & Innovation that has a £330 million programme of investment in battery research and production.

“We are delighted to see UKBIC come to fruition. Battery production is critical to the future of the UK automotive sector, the electrification agenda, and achieving a sustainable future for industry,” said David Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems, WMG at the University of Warwick that has been key to the UKBIC. “This is something that WMG identified back in 2016, and we were elated to win the bid to establish what is now UKBIC. At the heart of the UK battery manufacturing landscape, this national infrastructure exists nowhere else in Europe, and gives the UK a major advantage for development of new battery technologies. We continue to work very closely with UKBIC, with the focus at WMG in helping companies and universities prove out their battery chemistries and cell designs, ready for industrialisation at UKBIC. Together, we have built an ecosystem which allows battery companies to investigate new technologies, prove them out, then industrialise for high volume manufacture.”

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