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A former Britishvolt director has claimed investors were “spooked” by Brexit, which contributed to the firm’s collapse. In an exclusive interview with Express.co.uk, Ben Kilbey, former director of communications, said the Government lacked a “clear strategy and policy” in relation to the battery cell industry. Britishvolt was planning to build the UK’s first £3.8 billion gigafactory – a plant producing batteries for electric vehicles. But, following months of turmoil due to soaring wholesale energy prices, the company triggered 206 redundancies on January 17.
On Monday it was announced that Australian start-up firm Recharge Industries has won the bid to revive the plans which had been put on ice due to the collapse of Britishvolt. This means the country’s dreams of housing its first gigafactory in Blyth, Northumberland looks more positive than just a fortnight ago.
On reflection, speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Kilbey who is now the founder of communications and business development advisory, Bald Voodoo, said a variety of factors led to the initial downfall of Britishvolt.
He said that this included a “lack of clear policy and strategy and also management lacking the experience for a project of this magnitude. Many fingers were pointed at the company for being out of its depth as a start-up.
“However, the lack of a clear Government policy and post-Brexit uncertainties meant none of the larger, more established players were willing to step up and take the risk.”
Uncertainties arising from Britain’s departure from the European Union have been an issue that has long plagued the UK’s electric vehicle industry, with Elon Musk previously opting out of building his gigafactory in the UK as Brexit “made it too risky”.
Mr Kilbey hailed the Britishvolt staff who were made redundant as “trailblazers” that would go on to be swooped up by other industry players and have a “positive effect on the energy transition.”
He added that the “turmoil on financial markets due to both the global political and economic situation and UK Government policy in late 2022 were also negative factors and made fund raising very tricky for a pre-revenue company.”
He noted that while more Government support was clearly need to help the struggling startup, “clearly the UK Government was rattled by the less positive headlines that started to come out last summer.
“It’s easy to put the blame on Government given there is 100 percent a distinct lack of clear policy related to the battery cell industry,” he said. ” But we must also be cognisant to why the Government put such strict milestones in place.”
He admitted that the £100million boost provided by the Government when the factory was first announced “would not have scratched the surface” of the almost £4billion needed to finance it.
He added: “The Government wanted Britishvolt to prove it could control its own cash burn and attract investment. Sadly, that got out of control owing to the complexities of the project and potentially the structure.
“I am sure the enquiry, which has been opened as an autopsy of the failures of Britishvolt by the UK Government, will shed light on the matter and lessons will be learned.
“We know the country needs localised battery cell production, and supportive policy to help it happen. Clear and present policy to attract bigger brands to build Gigafactories. Without domestic battery cell production electric vehicle manufacturing will simply leave.”
The Government is currently building a supply chain for refining lithium, a critical element for electric batteries. However, Mr Kilbey noted that such ventures will only be successful if there are local battery manufacturing facilities to feed this refined lithium into.
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According to report from the Faraday Institute, demand for UK EV battery manufacturing capacity will reach over 100 GWh per annum in 2030, which is the equivalent of five large gigafactories running at full capacity.
However given that gigafactories take at least five years to reach operational capacity, they warned that investment and location decisions to meet battery demand in 2030 are all likely to be made in the next two to three years.
Mr Kilbey continued: “The Europeans will build their own refining capacity closer to battery cell manufacturing. This all highlights why clear and present policy is required for the benefit of the entire energy transformation and auto industry in the UK.
“The UK must provide the kind of level of support offered by many other governments across Europe, otherwise this country will miss out.”
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