Mining tycoon Andrew Forrest unveils new battery factory. Written by Daniel and read to you by Cassidy, subscribe to Electric Vehicle News Bitesize Podcast for FREE!
Andrew Forrest says he will open a factory in Oxfordshire after the collapse of Britishvolt sparked warnings that Britain was losing out to competition in a key industry.
Britain’s struggling battery industry got an unexpected boost after a mining tycoon announced it would open a battery factory in Oxfordshire in April.
Andrew Forrest, one of Australia’s richest men and founder of mining company Fortescue, said one of his companies would open a factory in Kidlington.
Mr Forrest said WAE Technologies, formerly part of the famed Williams Formula 1 team, would expand into manufacturing batteries and fuel cells. He bought WAE last year.
The news comes 24 hours after Britishvolt, touted as the UK’s “flagship” battery company for electric vehicles, entered administration.
The company had planned to build a gigafactory in Northumberland to make batteries, but appointed administrators after failing to raise enough money to research and develop a factory near Blyth.
Its collapse raised pressing questions in parliament, with MPs from all sides expressing widespread concern about the failure’s impact on the UK car industry. The business select committee is also investigating the collapse and its impact.
Mr Forrest, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said: “We invested heavily in British technology, British know-how and British work ethic last year. But then we’ve said: ‘Listen, it’s great you’ve got the most advanced, innovative prototype batteries in the world… but we’ve got to get into manufacturing.’
“So last year, we started building a factory in Kidlington. We’ll open it in April. It will create hundreds and hundreds of jobs.
He said the plant was “only the start” and that “I want to expand it from there and take that technology to Australia, North America. I want to stop the British brain drain and bring the smartest British engineers home.
“These are batteries which are going to be everywhere: in motorbikes, cars, trucks, huge mining trucks in Australia, even trains,” he told Sky News.
There are growing concerns about the lack of progress in government support to develop UK battery production.
Global automakers have announced plans to develop electric versions of their cars as governments increase subsidies for battery-powered vehicles and introduce green net-zero rules that limit petrol and diesel cars.
If there is no battery production in the UK, industry experts have warned carmakers to scale back investment in the UK and move factories to Europe or Asia.
In October, BMW announced it would stop making the electric Mini at its Oxford plant and move it to China, where the government supports battery manufacturing to reduce production costs and supply chain difficulties.
When the UK’s top car maker Jaguar Land Rover revealed its plans to electrify its range of vehicles it warned that its plant at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham, where about 2,000 workers assemble Jaguar’s XE range and its F-type sports car models, employment could be dramatically reduced with the next four to five years as a result of a lack of UK battery manufacturing.
The Faraday Institute, a think-tank, says the UK will need 10 battery gigafactories – large, high-volume manufacturing plants – to meet demand for green cars by 2040.
Some say the UK is not moving fast enough. By 2030, UK factories could have a combined capacity of 57 GWh, about 5% of Europe’s total GWh capacity, compared with 34% in Germany.
Labour’s shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, called Birtishvolt’s collapse a “disaster” for the UK car industry, which employs 182,000 people.
Accusing governments of lack of foresight, he said competing countries were building the necessary factories because “their governments had the vision and commitment to be the partners these companies needed to take these factories from paper plans to … implementation reality.
“Unless the Government wakes up to the scale of the transition that is required, we risk missing out many of the good jobs so many of our communities want and rely upon, we will miss out on one of the greatest economic opportunities this country has ever had.”
Matt Western, the Labour MP for Warwick, suggested that the Britishvolt battery project had not been taken seriously by many in the UK car industry since its launch in 2019. Britishvolt got off to a rocky start when one of its co-founders, entrepreneur Lars Carlstrom, was forced to step down as chairman after it was revealed he had been convicted of tax fraud in Sweden.
But the University of Warwick’s Advanced Propulsion Center (APC), one of the world’s leading centres for net-zero motoring research, said Britishvolt had developed “very reliable” prototypes, built them without funding, and passed them on to potential customers.
Julian Hetherington, at the APC called the collapse “a disappointing blow for the company, the UK automotive sector and the individuals affected. It is no secret that gigafactories require substantial investment and our insight suggests there is a huge opportunity in the UK associated with the electrification of cars alone, specifically with battery manufacturing.”
The APC predicts that UK manufacturing demand will reach at least 90 gigawatt hours (Gwh) by 2030. Nissan and Chinese battery company Envision are building capacity to deliver 9 GWh. “Of course, we need more. There is no doubt that the UK still has a lot of work to do to achieve its net zero emissions target – but there is still a lot to do.
MPs from across the party have urged the government to work with Britishvolt managers to persuade another manufacturer to make batteries at the factory.
As many as a dozen companies, including Jaguar Land Rover, have expressed interest in buying Britishvolt’s Northumberland factory hours after the group collapsed, it was reported late on Wednesday.
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