How the UK is building its battery future
Thursday, 10 June 2021
The transition from the internal combustion engine to electric vehicles (EV) will provide the battery industry with, arguably, its biggest opportunity for growth.
But industry growth is not a given. “The UK battery industry will need to grab the electrification opportunity and scale up quickly to ensure that its product is cost-competitive with other European countries,” says Stephen Gifford, Head of Economics and Market Insight at the Faraday Institute.
To meet its potential, the UK needs to attract inward investment to develop gigafactories; Gifford believes they will provide the anchor in terms of both providing skilled labour for future battery technology and demonstrate to global multinationals the UK is “in the business of batteries”.
To meet projected demand, Europe is increasing its battery manufacturing capacity from a few gigawatt-hours last year, to 100-150GWh by 2028, according to estimates by Avicenne Energy.
Of this, Battery Cells & Systems Expo and Vehicle Electrification Expo advisory board member Professor David Greenwood, from The University of Warwick, hopes and expects to see three sizeable cell manufacturing facilities in the UK.
The Faraday Institution goes a step further in saying Britain will need one gigafactory by 2022, two by 2025 and at least seven by 2040, each with an estimated capacity of 20GWh.
Britishvolt is hoping to be the first, with a 30GWh lithium-ion manufacturing facility in Blyth, Northumberland. The company plans to start building the plant this summer.
Others in the planning or rumour stage are: AMTE Power’s planned 1GWh lithium-ion plant following a memorandum of understanding with Britishvolt; a joint venture, between Coventry City Council and Coventry Airport, plans to build a 4.5 million square foot plant at the West Midland’s airport; and EV pioneer Tesla is rumoured to be interested in building a gigafactory on a 92-acre site in Somerset.
The rapid rise in manufacturing capacity could see Europe become the second biggest lithium-ion battery maker— behind China— by 2025, said the European Commission’s Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič during a meeting of the European Battery Alliance in March.
However, if the UK is to play its role it “needs to grow and grow quickly”, says Ian Whiting, Commercial Director at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC).
He believes the next three years will be critical for the UK’s battery industry, with legislation, global trading regulation and changes in consumer thinking on the environment all set to drive demand in batteries.
He says the UK must “shift our industrial focus” into the world’s new energy realities.
“We need to protect, save, upskill and create new jobs. Some of this will come from the transformation of existing players, while much will come from new, agile organisations, where they can source financial backing,” he says.
“We’ll then need to keep up the pace and build on that. We need to build an entire supply chain from materials through cells to battery packs.”
For batteries, the economics tend towards local production, so the UK and European industry is unlikely to be competing with manufacturing plants in Asia to supply batteries to UK/EU vehicle makers.
“More likely the UK will be competing with European plants,” says Professor Greenwood. “Initially it is likely UK manufacturers will source their materials overseas, but within the next five to 10 years I expect the UK to establish a supply chain for the majority of materials required.
“If supply chain companies wait to see demand signals cascade up supply chains in the form of orders, then they may well be too late to compete— events like the Expo are critical to ensure that the entire supply chain is ready and able to respond simultaneously to demand.”
Battery focused initiatives
In parallel to plants, the UK’s battery industry path includes focused initiatives that will enable the UK’s R&D ecosystem to rival other countries.
Initiatives by Expo founding partners include:
UKBIC set to provide a link between laboratory and prototype-scale production with the opening of its £130 million, 18,500 square metre facility in Coventry this summer.
The Faraday Institute aiding growth by managing a portfolio of research projects in areas it thinks battery technology is headed, with an eye on commercialisation and maximising the economic benefits and providing the UK manufacturing industry with a competitive advantage.
Expo advisory member Gifford expects substantial growth in UK businesses developing beyond lithium-ion technologies such as solid-state batteries, sodium-ion and lithium-sulfur.
He says: “Taking the example of lithium-sulfur batteries for aero and heavy freight; the UK has an opportunity to become a global leading hub for this technology.”
EVs role in battery industry
On the UK’s journey to mass EV adoption, there will be speed bumps, which include: price, driving range, charge times and infrastructure. While these bumps are a work in progress, first adopters in the UK are embracing EVs in ever-greater numbers.
Last year, a record 108,000 EVs were sold in the UK; by the end of February, there was more than 215,000 pure-electric cars on UK roads, and more than 455,000 plug-in models, including plug-in hybrids.
EV adoption will rely on the technology breakthroughs in the area highlighted above, with performance improvements and cost reductions needed to make lithium-ion batteries achieve parity with internal combustion engines (ICE).
While R&D boosts lithium-ion capabilities, government regulations and incentives will accelerate adoption of electric vehicles in the meantime, says Expo advisory board member Dee Strand, from Wildcat Technologies.
For example, the UK has brought its ban on the sale of ICE vehicles forward a decade to 2030. Other European countries will follow suit with their own bans as the continent aims to reach its 2050 net zero-carbon strategy.
With the writing on the wall for ICE vehicles, all original equipment manufacturers have, or are thinking of, developing EVs. In the UK, vehicle makers Jaguar Land Rover will launch electrified models of its entire range by 2030, and Aston Martin plans to make 90% of its cars electric by the close of the decade.
Against this backdrop of UK progress is the free-to-attend Battery Cells & Systems Expo and Vehicle Electrification Expo. The event is being held on the 7th & 8th July at the NEC Birmingham, UK. As Steve Bryan, Managing Director of Event Partners, says: “A good event becomes the inevitable consequence of the strength of the industry.”
Conferences such as the Expo are hugely important because they serve two key purposes: delegates receive hitherto unknown information on the industry; and companies share their developments to delegates.
Gifford believes the Expo can also help the UK battery industry develop a critical mass of skills and knowledge across the business, research, and public sector, which will enable it to better compete with the larger and more established markets in the Far East.
He says: “Events such as Battery Cells & Systems Expo and the associated conference play an important role in showcasing the depth and breadth of the UK’s vibrant research and innovation ecosystem, for batteries and beyond.”
The point is echoed by Whiting, who believes conferences are critical to ensuring that manufacturers, influencers, entrepreneurs, educators, politicians and academics share information and best practise, with the collective goal of accelerating the UK’s battery supply industry.
While the speed bumps on the EV road include costs, the other two parts— charge times and infrastructure— will depend on technological advancement in both cell components/materials and cell manufacturing, says Strand.
He says: “Technology advancement occurs most rapidly with education, communication, and collaboration of organisations. This Expo will provide an excellent focal point for scientists, engineers, and business development to exchange latest technical results, best practices, and industry news.”
Battery Cells & Systems Expo, Vehicle Electrification Expo, The Advanced Materials Show and Ceramics UK is taking place on 7th & 8th July 2021, NEC UK. For more information and to register for free visit: