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Recharging Britain’s battery plans

Recharging Britain’s battery plans

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Plans to build a factory that makes batteries for electric cars have been thrown into doubt. What does it mean for the UK’s electric vehicle revolution?

“From 2030 the sale of new diesel-only and petrol-only vehicles will be banned. That’s a decade earlier than originally planned.”

BBC News

That decision by the government was a big deal for drivers and the car industry, which is an important part of the UK economy.

Companies like Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Vauxhall all have factories here and export their vehicles all over the world.

Last year the UK built eight hundred and fifty nine thousand cars and, importantly, 1.6 million engines.

But soon the UK will need to make something different to fuel the shift to electric: batteries.

“While most electric vehicle components are much the same as those of conventional cars, the big difference is the battery. Internal combustion engines get their energy from burning petrol or diesel while an electric vehicle is powered directly from a big pack of batteries.”

Top Electric

To make electric cars affordable you need to produce batteries on a large scale, which is why we need huge factories, known as gigafactories, to make them.

But now one of the UK’s flagship projects is in trouble.

“We need these batteries. There’s absolutely no question. We’re gonna, er, at the moment, it was great the Envision brought the gigafactory to Sunderland. We have high hopes for the Britishvolt plant in Blyth.”

BBC News

Britishvolt is a UK start-up which makes lithium-ion batteries. For the past couple of years… it’s been getting a lot of attention. 

Its three point eight billion pound gigafactory in the north east of England is expected to make ​​enough cells for around 300,000 electric vehicle batteries every year.

There is already a site in Sunderland, overseen by a separate company called Envision. But  those two factories combined would still only be enough to provide a fraction of what’s going to be needed to power EV’s in the UK alone.

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There’s another proposed site in the West Midlands in the works as well, but the UK government would still need a further two sites – that’s five in total – to meet its ambition to target sales in both domestic and EU markets.

And remember, only one of those five factories is actually up and running, that’s the one in Sunderland.


So that is why the government set up a fund to accelerate the shift away from petrol and diesel – and pledged £100 million to Britishvolt.

“That belief, that backing, triggering more than a billion in private investments that’s left the CEO here certain vision is about to become reality.”

ITV News

But quite soon after that promise of government money, things changed…

“It started early this morning. The Russian assault on Ukraine began with missile attacks on key targets.”

ITV News

“We start with breaking news on inflation. We’ve just had the figures within the last few seconds. Bad news. Back to double digits. The City of London woke up to a currency crisis. The pound sent tumbling on Asian markets to its lowest ever level against the dollar.”

Sky News

The economic downturn caused by Russia’s war with Ukraine, and the government’s disastrous mini budget, caused investment to dry up – leaving Britishvolt on the brink of collapse.

It asked the government to give it thirty million pounds of the one hundred million it had promised to help it weather the storm… but ministers refused the request.

A spokesperson said it “doesn’t comment on speculation or the commercial affairs of private companies.”

So the company made a last ditch attempt to find more private funding and avoid bankruptcy.

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“The short term funding that we’ve secured is confidential and that’s at the request of that investor. The investor is very committed to the cause… which is to get batteries up and running in Britain and to supply the industry.”

Yahoo News

Britishvolt has managed to cling on, for now, but that short term funding will only keep it afloat for another month.

Its 300 existing employees have also volunteered to take pay cuts. According to the Guardian its executive team won’t get anything in November, directors will get 30 percent of their pay and the rest of the workforce will get half.

Britishvolt’s chief executive, Graham Hoare, told Sky News that he hopes that’ll be enough to bridge the gap…

“We’ve got more than four major opportunities that are in development and they’re with international activities with investors that see the value in the energy  transition, so I do feel confident that this bridging fund will allow us to fully explore those opportunities.”

Graham Hoare

If it doesn’t succeed then a more established manufacturer could take over the site, so the government’s ambitions may still be met.

But it would signal the end of a dream, promoted by Boris Johnson, of a homegrown battery maker in the UK. 


This episode was written by Lewis Vickers and mixed by Sean Collins.


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