Britishvolt, the company that is aiming to build the UK’s first battery cell ‘gigaplant’, aims to raise £2.6bn to build a factory in north-east England and begin production in 2023.
The project’s total investment has increased from the £1.2bn previously stated as the company moved the proposed site of the factory, though it has not yet secured a fraction of this amount.
After disagreements with local government in Wales over an intended site in the Vale of Glamorgan, Britishvolt said on Friday that it now plans to build the plant on the site of the old Blyth Power Station in the Wansbeck district of Northumberland.
The intention is to break ground next summer and begin production of lithium-ion batteries within three years, it said, with the aim of producing enough batteries to power at least 300,000 electric vehicles a year.
Privately owned by Swedish entrepreneur Lars Carlstrom and Abu Dhabi financier Orral Nadjari, the company said they want to power the site with renewable energy, such as hydro-electric power from Norway.
The start-up was founded a year ago by Nadjari and, according to the Financial Times, has been looking at raising some funds via a reverse takeover in 2021, with the rest of the investment coming from debt and grants.
Nadjari said: “We are delighted to have secured this site in Blyth. This is a tremendous moment both for Britishvolt and UK industry.”
He added: “Blyth meets all of our exacting requirements and could be tailor made. It is on the doorstep of major transport links, easily accessible renewable energy and the opportunity for a co-located supply chain, meets our target to make our gigaplant the world’s cleanest and greenest battery facility.”
The Welsh Government said: “Given the ambitious timescales that the company is working to, it has been mutually agreed that Bro Tathan will not be the site of Britishvolt’s first gigaplant.”
The local Wansbech MP, Ian Levy of the Conservative Party, was electrified at the promised prospect of up to 8000 directly created jobs.
“I can’t think of anything comparable in the North East since Nissan invested in Sunderland more than 35 years ago,” he said.
“Since Britishvolt first made contact it has been my absolute priority to work in partnership with its leadership team to do everything possible to bring this scheme to Northumberland.”
Trade union Unite welcome the potential £2.6bn investment in Wansbeck as exactly the kind of stimulus the local economy and the UK manufacturing needs to achieve Britain’s net zero carbon targets but raised some concerns that people may be getting ahead of themselves.
“Unite is concerned that Boris Johnson has cynically jumped on an announcement by a company that is still far from achieving its stated aims,” said assistant general secretary Steve Turner.
“It is not lost on us that until last week, BritishVolt were proposing to build this same plant close to St Athan, Wales, with an agreement in place with the Welsh government. There were also the same shortcomings in investment and lack of a strategic partner with technical and manufacturing expertise.”
He noted that in September last year, Johnson announced that plans from Monaco-based billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos to build a new 4×4 car in Wales and deliver hundreds of new jobs, before it emerged this week that Ineos has now moved its proposed site to France.
“The prime minister is now desperate for some good news to deflect from the devastating impacts of a no-deal [Brexit], particularly on automakers such as Nissan in Sunderland.”
He called on Johnson to “provide the support and investment necessary for BritishVolt to get the factory up and running. This must be part of an interventionist industrial strategy that sees all elements – including infrastructure, cell and battery production and vehicle manufacture – aligned to provide jobs to families and communities that have been so long ignored.”