Business Secretary Greg Clark MP announces new national battery facility for UK
Business secretary Greg Clark MP announces new national battery facility for UK

Business Secretary Greg Clark MP announces new national battery facility for UK

UK government minister Greg Clark makes major battery announcements at Internet of Business event.

The UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Greg Clark unveiled the second phase Faraday Challenge funding winners yesterday, in his keynote speech at the Internet of Business Battery & Energy Storage 2017 event.

A total investment of £120m from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund will be injected into battery innovation, including £40 million through Innovate UK to fund 27 battery research projects. This will involve 66 organisations and encompass key technologies, such as the development of battery materials, design and production of modules and packs, advances in thermal and battery management systems, and recycling of battery packs.

He also announced the creation of a new national battery facility, which has been allocated the remaining £80 million in funding. This is the most significant development to date, in what is set to be a £246 million commitment over four years by the UK government.

The partnership between the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG) at the University of Warwick, Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and Coventry City Council will ensure the UK’s place at the forefront of battery research and manufacturing, said Clark.

Read more: UK aims for world leadership in battery tech

Big ambitions

The National Battery Manufacturing Development Facility (NBMDF) will offer comprehensive academic and vocational training programs, and lead global research. The facility should serve to speed market entry of performance leading products, enable rapid growth and attract investment in key technologies.

“Battery technology is one of the most game-changing forms of energy innovation and it is one of the cornerstones of our ambition, through the Industrial Strategy and the Faraday Challenge, to ensure that the UK leads the world, and reaps the economic benefits, in the global transition to a low carbon economy,” said the Secretary of State in his speech.

“The new facility, based in Coventry and Warwickshire, will propel the UK forward in this thriving area, bringing experts from academia and industry together to deliver innovation and R&D that will further enhance the West Midlands’ international reputation as a cluster of automotive excellence.”

Read more: Battery tech will power global smart grid ambitions

The Faraday Challenge

Greg Clarke was eager to emphasize the importance of the Faraday Challenge to the future of battery technology, the automotive industry and the renewable energy sector.

“These competitions transform energy storage from something exclusive, at esteemed conferences such as this, to something that is accessible to every household in the UK. Our industrial strategy is building a brighter future for storage. All of you here today are part of this future. We have to come together to maximize this opportunity.”

The Faraday Challenge was introduced earlier this year to help jump-start innovation in the sector. The competition for funding is split into three streams – research, innovation and scale-up:

  • A new ‘application-inspired’ research programme coordinated at national scale
  • An innovation programme to support collaborative research and development with co-investment from industry
  • A scale-up programme to allow companies of all sizes to rapidly move new battery technologies to market

These principles are being applied to the whole spectrum of batteries’ development and use, from raw materials and advances in electrochemistry, to their end-of-life treatment.

Read more: Wireless charging ‘Forever Battery’ offers innovative AA battery replacement

Future of battery technology in the UK

Though there’s still a long way to go, as shown by the slow adoption of electric cars, battery technology is becoming increasingly viable from a value perspective. The cost of lithium ion battery production has fallen by 50 percent in the last two years. This has led to developments such as Jaguar Land Rover creating 10,000 manufacturing jobs in the UK from its line of electric vehicles.

We will also soon see the electrification of passenger airplanes. Airbus plans to produce electric hybrids by 2020 and commercialize them by 2025.

This cost viability is being reflected in the renewable sector, too. By 2020, we can expect 550 functioning grid-scale battery facilities, which will help to overcome the variability that comes with generating energy from the UK’s unpredictable wind and sun.

With rapid advancement in technology comes a need for regulatory reform and Greg Clark was eager to emphasize the government’s work with Ofgem to remove these roadblocks. The regulator is currently modifying electricity generation licences to accommodate energy storage.

Read more: Powervault to give electric car batteries a second life in smart homes

Can the UK lead the way?

Warwick University’s campus was a fitting venue for the Battery & Energy Storage event and the Secretary of State’s announcement. The institution has been a proponent of industry and research in the area for decades. Even the building in which the conference took place acted as a microcosm of the event’s vision for the future, with its solar panels and sustainable design.

It’s one thing to talk up the need for the UK to lead worldwide battery research and development, but it’s quite another to make it a reality. The obvious question, put to Greg Clark yesterday, was, “Are we investing enough?”

His response? “Since 2010 we’ve managed to prevent the research and development budget being cut. We are now looking for an increase. We want to be one of the nations investing the most in R&D. The target is to go from 1.7 percent of GPD to 2.4 percent, in the next 10 years – then 3 percent after that.”

The announcement leaves the impression that, though we may not have the comparatively limitless budgets that counterparts elsewhere in the world have, we have a deep vein of talented scientists and engineers in the UK that enables us to punch well above our weight.

As the country where the lithium ion battery was invented, and given the key role that batteries will have in the future, it’s important that the UK remains at the head of battery technology worldwide. The National Battery Manufacturing Development Facility will have a vital part to play, if that goal is to be achieved.

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