Update: this article covers Britishvolt’s original plans for having its gigafactory site in South Wales. This was correct at the original time of writing, but as of early December 2020, the manufacturer has since changed its planned site destination to Northumberland (in North East England). To read up on the manufacturer’s revised plans to build a site in Northumberland, UK, please click here.
The plans to build the UK’s first gigaplant are well underway as Britishvolt and AMTE Power have chosen Bro Tatham, Wales as the lithium-ion battery (LIB) factory location. The site is not only a former Royal Air Force base, but it will also be situated near one of Aston Martin’s manufacturing facilities, which is being built at the time of writing.
In a combined effort to support the UK’s EV industry, which is grappling to match the fast pace of global automotive battery manufacturing, the two British startups aim to build a £1.2 billion factory that will create as many as 4,000 jobs.
The construction of the factory is planned to start in the second quarter of 2021. Once the project is complete, the Welsh site will be set to have a similar output to the Tesla Gigafactory: it will have LIBs with a capacity of 30 gigawatt-hours, or GWh, a year (Tesla’s site achieves 35GWh a year).
An aerial view of the South Wales location (based in Bro Tathan) that will be used to build the first UK gigaplant for electric vehicle batteries production. Image Credit: Bro Tathan.
The Welsh factory will receive its electricity supply from a 200-megawatt solar plant that will be built on the same location to reduce the UK’s carbon footprint.
Hiring the Right Mind for the Job
Britishvolt, reflecting its serious intentions to quickly move forward—namely by securing a top spot for the British EV industry—has appointed Allan Patterson as its new chief technical officer.
Dr Patterson is a renowned expert in next-generation technologies, having worked as head of programme management at the Faraday Institution.
The Faraday Institution, which is backed by the UK Government, estimates that the UK needs an annual capacity of 130GWh by 2040 to support its failing automotive sector.
Britishvolt is looking at five other locations for large-scale battery plants, hoping to draw funds from investors from Scandinavian or Middle-Eastern countries.
Meanwhile, the seeds of the battery revolution continue to be planted even in non-automotive industries, as manufacturers keep searching for LIB replacements (consider such breakthroughs as better multivalent batteries and other Li-ion battery alternatives). Nevertheless, traditional, EV-friendly LIBs remain one of the automotive industry’s major investment focuses.
Investments in the EV Industry to Relieve Automotive Sector Crisis
Britain has been lagging behind other countries, which hold the world’s largest gigafactories: in fact, this is the first time that an automotive battery manufacturer has chosen the UK as its central plant site. (For a point of comparison, consider Berlin, Germany, in which Tesla opened its design and innovation centre back in 2019; plus, the tech giant intends to start building Gigafactory 4 in the same city in 2021.)
An infographic that represents July 2020’s decreasing car manufacturing output numbers in the UK. Image Credit: the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
The UK automotive industry is generally stable and strong but not fully immune to economic quandaries. A report by SMMT (the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) reports that, in July 2020, UK car production has marked a move towards an improved output compared to numbers in May and June the same year. However, the central summer month still had a deflated car production of −20.8%.
A Turning Point for the UK’s Automotive Industry
Electric cars made in the United Kingdom currently rely on China-imported batteries, which are later assembled within vehicles already in the UK. Therefore, there is a growing need for locally-produced electronic components, including batteries.
Accordingly, the instalment of the South Wales EV battery gigaplant portends a substantial shift in the vehicle manufacturing industry in the UK—and potentially Europe itself, at a time when the continent faces a major crisis in the vehicle manufacturing sector. (Moreover, due to the coronavirus pandemic, plant closures and lost jobs have cost the United Kingdom an estimated £8.2 billion in the first half of 2020.)
Ultimately, the UK’s sourcing of automotive components, alongside the reskilling of its workforce to prepare for the country’s changing economic climate, will prove to be two of the United Kingdom’s major strengths in securing the way towards its automotive manufacturing goals.