Electric vehicle boost as major new UK battery site announced

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The UK’s ambitions to lead the way on electric vehicles has recieved a major new boost after an Australian firm announced that it will build an advanced battery plant in Oxfordshire later this year. This site could help meet some of massive demand that is set to come out of the UK as the country is poised to ban the sale of fossil fuel cars after 2035. The new plant, announced by billionaire Andrew Forrest, founder of Australian iron ore giant Fortescue, will create electric batteries for heavy goods vehicle. However, he added in the future his firm will also look into making batteries for cars, motorbikes and “even trains”.

Australian billionaire Mr Forrest told Sky News he was expanding operations at WAE Technologies, the technical offshoot of the Williams Formula 1 team.

This new site in Kidlington will develop batterries and fuel cells that could be used in heavy good vehicles in the coming decades. 

It comes as a major relief for the UK’s electric vehicle industry after Britishvolt, which is looking to built the UK’s first gigafactory, is set to enter administration

A total of 206 people have lost their jobs, in a major blow to the country’s EV rollout as the plant in Blyth, Northumberland was viewed as a key component of the UK’s drive to phase out petrol and diesel cars.

Mr Forrest’s new site will have a different from Britishvolt’s Blyth plant, focussing on high density batteries for large trucks, like those used by his mining company.

While its output will be significantly lower than the 300,000 lithium-ion batteries a year that was promised by Britishvolt, the news will offer the British automotive industry a ray of hope. 

He said: “We invested heavily in British technology, British knowhow and British work ethic last year. But then we’ve said: ‘Listen, it’s great you’ve got the most advanced, innovative prototype batteries in the world… but we’ve got to get into manufacturing’.

“So last year, we started building a large factory in Kidlington. We’ll open it in April. It will [create] hundreds and hundreds of new British jobs.

“And that’s only the start. I want to expand it from there and I want to take that technology to Australia, to North America. I want to really stop the British brain drain and bring the smartest British engineers… home.

“These are batteries which are going to be everywhere: in motorbikes, cars, trucks, even even our huge mining trucks in Australia, even trains.”

Given that the new Kidlington plant will produce up to 400MW/h per year of battery modules and fully assembled integrated power systems, it is too small to be regarded as a “gigafactory”, which produces more than a gigawatt-hour of cells each year.

Even though these high density, high performance batteries are aimed at a specific market, WAE hopes to build more such sites around the world, using the blueprints of their UK site. 

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The company is also looking to build a new manufacturing and prototype test facility in the UK, which could create more new jobs in the UK’s burgeoning electric vehicle sector.

This report comes just a day after lawyers for Britishvolt filed a notice of its intention to appoint administrators with the insolvency court. Staff were informed around midday today that efforts to rescue the firm had collapsed.

Express.co.uk understands that EY is handling the insolvency and administration. The battery firm, which was backed by mining giant Glencore, managed to dodge an initial collapse in November after an receiving a funding boost.

Staff were asked to take pay cuts to keep the business up-and-running at the time. The company was also set to get a £100million cash injection to help develop a thriving EV industry in the UK, but failed to do so when it made an attempt in November.

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