University of Warwick: WMG battery vision powers into life with formal launch of UK Battery Industrialisation Centre

Margot James, Executive Chair and Dave Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems from WMG, at the University of Warwick, were delighted today (15 July 2021), to be invited to the official opening of the UK Battery industrialisation Centre by The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister – bringing to reality a vision first set out by WMG in 2016.

The £130 million UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) is a pioneering 18,500 square metre state-of-the-art national facility, which has been developed to support UK industry with development of battery technologies for future electrification.

UKBIC can be used by any organisation working on batteries for electric vehicles, rail, aerospace, industrial and domestic equipment and static energy storage, who can benefit from finding out whether their advanced technologies can be scaled up successfully before committing to the huge investment required for mass production. The facility employs more than 80 battery technicians, engineers, and support staff, with plans for that number to grow to support future project partnerships with industry and research organisations.

UKBIC presents an opportunity for UK technology developers to prove out their innovations and processes by acting as the bridge between new battery chemistries developed in the research laboratories and mass scale production for the automotive market in Gigafactories. The facility is owned 66% by Coventry City Council and 33% by the University of Warwick in order to maintain its independence of any one vehicle or battery company.

David Greenwood, Professor of Advanced Propulsion Systems at WMG, University of Warwick comments:

“We are delighted to see UKBIC come to fruition. This national infrastructure exists nowhere else in Europe, and gives the UK a major advantage for development of new battery technologies. It is something that WMG identified back in 2016, and we were elated to win the bid in 2017, from a competition run by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC), to establish what is now UKBIC. We scoped the facility, built the team, and started the project based out of our Energy Innovation Centre. As intended, UKBIC became independent of WMG in 2018, and moved to site in 2020 as the building was completed.

“WMG continues to work closely with UKBIC, with our focus on helping companies and universities prove out their battery chemistries and cell designs, ready for industrialisation which can take place at UKBIC. Together, we have built an ecosystem which allows battery companies to investigate new technologies, prove them out, and then industrialise for high volume manufacture.”

The UK Government has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution makes the commitment that all new vehicles are to have a traction battery by 2030 (electric or plug-in hybrid) and be fully electric by 2035. WMG and UKBIC will support the development of battery technologies needed to deliver against that vision.

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP, Prime Minister, said: “UKBIC is a beacon of innovation and ingenuity- shining the way for a brighter, greener future for the battery sector in the UK. It was an honour to open this world-class facility which will help to deliver green growth and jobs as industrial demand accelerates in the UK battery sector. With the technology and government backed expertise on offer right here in Coventry, I have no doubt that UKBIC will become world leaders in the industry.”

Margot James, Executive Chair at WMG, University of Warwick adds:

“Battery production is critical to the future of the UK automotive sector, the electrification agenda, and achieving a sustainable future for industry. The West Midlands has long been the centre of the UK automotive industry, with an advanced supply chain, a mature automotive skills eco-system, and cutting-edge research. The UK Battery Industrialisation Centre is at the heart of the UK battery manufacturing landscape.”

“It’s no coincidence that UKBIC is immediately adjacent to the proposed site for the West Midlands Gigafactory. We foresee a strong interaction between those two, whereby the Gigafactory caters for the millions of batteries that go into cars right now, and UKBIC is the future-facing mechanism that helps the Gigafactory generate its next product and helps companies de-risk new battery manufacturing processes by facilitating manufacturing trials without the high risk of committing to a mass production run.”

UKBIC is a key part of the Faraday Battery Challenge (FBC), a Government programme to fast track the development of cost-effective, high-performance, durable, safe, low-weight and recyclable batteries.

Professor Greenwood continued;

“Although UKBIC has been set-up in such a way that it can support businesses across a plethora of industries and sectors, this initiative is led by current automotive demand as this is the biggest market and it is moving the fastest. However, at WMG over the last 12 months we have been increasing our work with aerospace, marine, rail, motorcycle and micro-mobility sectors, so we can see electrification applications growing across all of transport and mobility.

“WMG’s role in the battery manufacturing journey is to progress the basic science of the material chemistry to proof of concept. This is the point where you can build small volumes of cells per day and demonstrate that they provide the lifespan and performance that you expect. Based on this, WMG’s work is very closely aligned with manufacturing processes, but not at full manufacturing rate.

“This then needs to go from a working product, to a product that will run down a manufacturing line at 20 cells per second, and this mass scale production is where we need to get. UKBIC is the solution to fulfilling this last segment of the process; the manufacturing scale-up.

“UKBIC can develop three things; product, manufacturing technology and skills, with each one bringing different stakeholders. For car manufacturers, it provides the ability to build prototype volumes of cells, modules and packs to be able to build early fleets of vehicles before you go to full-scale production.

“As the industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to create jobs and opportunities in new sectors rather than the old ones. We will be utilising UKBIC to up-skill, re-skill and train individuals in specialist battery manufacturing areas, which will be required to support the UK Government’s Build Back Better plan for growth. As an industry we will need 20,000 skilled staff for Gigafactories, and a further 50,000 in their supply chains. These jobs are likely to be focussed around the Midlands and the North East”

This is a positive step for the battery ecosystem, providing a pipeline of opportunities for various levels of engineers and technicians as well as young people looking to establish a career in battery technology or the automotive sector through apprenticeships. WMG, have seen this area of the market emerging for some time, and as a result have created a national skills framework, including apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships, short courses and formal qualifications. This aims to deliver the needs of a decarbonised automotive sector through electrification, building skills for the future and keeping the brightest talent in the region.

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