A new national centre of excellence in battery technologies, aimed specifically at electric car energy storage, is envisaged as a stepping stone to a large-scale battery factory for electric vehicles – “a Gigafactory in the UK,” according to minister for business and industry Andrew Stephenson, announcing an additional £28m funding for the centre. The total cost of the facility will be £108m, said mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street.
Coventry won a national competition to choose where the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) would be cited, and the centre is part of the West Midlands Local Industrial Strategy, which was developed with many local businesses and is the first of its type in the country. The funding Stephenson announced is in addition to an £80m previously-announced investment from the government’s Faraday Battery Challenge – a £246m commitment over the next four years on developing automotive batteries.
The Local Industrial Strategy (LIS) sets out a long-term vision to increase productivity across the region, and aims to put the West Midlands, and Coventry in particular, back at the centre for technology development in the UK’s automotive sector. Electric vehicles and driverless cars are central to these plans.
“Putting the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero emission vehicles is at the heart of our plans – creating jobs, growth and opportunity across the country,” Stephenson said. “Driven by the potential of fast-paced development of battery technology, this investment puts the UK - amongst a handful of countries around the world – on the next step to meet the challenge by the future of mobility. Our investment of £28m in this new facility will support the UK’s world-leading automotive industry to compete internationally, attract further investment and establish supply chains for new electric vehicle battery design and development.”
Although the automotive sector is central to the LIS, it is not the sole focus, Andy Street stressed. “The Local Industrial Strategy being launched today also highlights advanced manufacturing, medical research and the creative and digital industries as distinct strengths of the West Midlands. The Strategy will build on these strengths and other opportunities so we have a strong and resilient economic future that can benefit all communities across the whole region.”
Among other goals of the strategy is to deliver UK’s the first large-scale 5G testbed, and to develop a translational medicine and med-tech commission to accelerate the transfer of technologies and pharmaceuticals from lab to patient.
UKBIC will develop battery chemistry, electrodes, cell design, modules and battery packs, and is aimed to open in 2020. It will be managed by Jeff Pratt, who was previously general manager at Nissan’s lithium ion battery plant in Sunderland. It will create around 100 permanent jobs, but it hopes to be the springboard for 10,000 new jobs in the supply chain and related technologies once it is running at full capacity.
Tony Harper, Faraday Battery Challenge director at UK Research and Innovation, said: “This new world-class facility will allow the UK to rigorously prepare our home-grown battery technologies for global competitiveness. This additional investment will mean its ambitious facilities will be expanded and improved to meet the soaring demand of the electric vehicle global market.”