Astonishment at failing UK battery strategy

July 27, 2021 // By Nick Flaherty
Astonishment at failing UK battery strategy
An influential UK government committee is ‘astonished’ at the lack of action on the country’s battery strategy and is calling for more backing for solid state technology

The UK risks losing out on battery technology says a dramatic report.

The House of Lords cross-party Science and Technology Select Committee warns that the actions taken by the Government do not take advantage of opportunities presented by batteries and fuel cells for the UK’s research and manufacturing sectors.

Despite the recent announcements of plans for battery gigafactories and the opening of the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC), the Committee warns that it is too late to compete on today’s lithium io battery cells for electric vehicles, and that the UK is failing to make the most of its expertise in fuel cells and next-generation solid state batteries. It also warns the UK risks losing its existing automotive industry and falling further behind global competitors in battery manufacture.

The Committee was alarmed by the 'apparent disconnect' between the optimism of Ministers about the UK’s prospects and the concerns raised by contributors to the report. The language is strong. “The UK’s current trajectory of battery manufacture is insufficient to support the automotive industry’s transition to electric vehicles or to meet our net-zero commitment. Despite recent announcements of UK gigafactories, the pace and scale of building these facilities will not meet demand for batteries, and automotive manufacturing will most likely move overseas,” says the report.  

“In the face of this risk, we were astonished by the stark disconnect between the optimism of Ministers and officials that the UK could retain its position in the automotive sector, and the concerns of our other witnesses that the UK is far behind its competitors and faces significant challenges with innovation, supply chains and skills.”

The immediate priority it to develop UK supply chains and secure raw materials for battery manufacture, ahead of UK-EU ‘Rules of Origin’ coming into force in 2027 that could cause manufacture to move to the EU says the report.

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“The Committee found that the Government’s ambition to reach net zero emissions is not matched by its actions. The Government must align its actions and rhetoric in order to take advantage of the great opportunity presented by batteries and fuel cells for UK research and manufacturing,” said Lord Patel, Chair of the Lords Science and Technology Committee.

“The Government must act now to avoid the risk of the UK not only losing its existing automotive industry, but also losing the opportunity for global leadership in fuel cells and next-generation batteries. The Government must develop a coherent successor to the industrial strategy and promote its objectives clearly, both domestically and internationally, supported by investments commensurate with those of the UK's international competitors.”

The Committee calls for an acceleration of the roll out of charging points as a key capability and provide deliver 325,000 charging points by 2032, including rapid chargers in towns and on the strategic road network.

Government action is also needed to ensure the automotive sector has sufficient skilled workers for its transition from mechanical to electrical technology, including through training, upskilling and immigration, a well as increased funding for the development of next-generation batteries, to allow the UK to leapfrog its competitors and gain an advantage for future manufacture of batteries and vehicles.

committees.parliament.uk/committee/193/science-and-technology-committee-lords/publications/

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