Gigafactories: a key to unlocking growth and a greener world
There has been considerable recent debate about the benefits of a gigafactory, but to many, gigafactories are a new or unknown concept and the opportunities they represent even more opaque. Gigafactories, put simply, are large manufacturing facilities; the most famous of which is Tesla's 2014 creation in Nevada, designed to produce billions of batteries in the growing efforts of the automotive industry to rely on cleaner sustainable energy.
It is understandable therefore why gigafactories are an important part of the UK's efforts to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and spur a green industrial revolution, made all the more pertinent given the UK government's statement to ban all petrol and diesel vehicle production by 2030, as part of Boris Johnson's 10-point plan on green industry.
Two British start-up companies have been competing to create UK's first gigafactory for electric vehicles (EV) and energy storage purposes. One of these companies, Britishvolt, recently announced it is set to create its global headquarters near Nuneaton, at the MIRA Technology Park Campus.
Orral Nadjari, Britishvolt's CEO, commented, “A new global headquarters in the West Midlands marks a crucial step for Britishvolt … With further development being planned it is in the right place to take advantage of world-class talent. We intend to produce world-class batteries, which are strategically important both for the future of the UK automotive industry and the future strength of the entire UK economy.”
Britishvolt had chosen South Wales as its first location for a gigafactory, but it was recently confirmed that the site at a former RAF base at Bro Tathan would not be proceeding – with an alternative site being announced imminently.
The decision on where to locate a gigafactory had been left to those companies willing to make the investment to build the facility (reputed to be £1.2bn in the case of Britishvolt's abortive South Wales factory), however given Chancellor Rishi Sunak's recent commitment of £500m over the next four years on the development and mass-scale production of EV batteries – this may now all change.
The West Midland Combined Authority Mayor Andy Street is leading the charge, hopeful to receive £250m from the Chancellor's newly designate battery fund. If he is successful it would be a major coup for the region and the well established regional automotive industry, which has largely relied on battery cell suppliers from China, South Korea and Japan. It has been argued that a gigafactory in the West Midlands could bring £730m into the local economy, create 4,100 local jobs and protect nearly 70,000 jobs in the national supply chain, whilst developing world leading expertise in the EV industry - the growth of which is exponential.
The picture emerges of just how important gigafactories are in achieving national policy goals and stimulating regional economies. This is in addition to the cutting-edge technologies that will be employed to build the gigafactory and create the EV battery production line they contain.
As the UK transitions to a new era of European relations and deals with the prolonged fallout caused by the covid-19 pandemic, the commitment to a battery fund and the imminent announcement of the new location for the UK's first gigafactory are much needed and welcome news in terms of the economic, social, technological and environmental benefits that will ensue.