The strong progress in recent years in reducing automotive CO2 emissions has stalled as the limits of internal combustion engine technology are reached. A technological transition involving 15m passenger cars is required.

Most manufacturers are concluding that the technology that most closely meets the technical, customer and business requirements and can be sourced at scale in the required timeframe is battery electric.

We all know how important the automotive industry is to the UK, and how it is imperative to support the industry through the disruption caused by electrification. We need to drive hard now and invest heavily in the research, development and scale up activities to ensure the battery industry in the UK thrives.

In fact, a recent study by the Faraday Institution and produced with McKinsey Energy Insights and the University of Oxford predicts that by 2040 there will be demand for 8 gigafactories in the UK.

But let’s think of things in a different way. In 2025 – a timescale over which many of us will have bought our next car – the report predicts the annual number of new EVs purchased to be approximately 750,000 cars. That’s 750,000 individual or family purchasing decisions.

It is imperative that we as an industry don’t forget that demand for EVs will be driven one consumer at a time. We need to examine the perceived barriers to EV adoption – whether we in the industry believe they are real or not.

To take one example, a recent AutoTrader study report quotes 99.3% of all journeys made in the UK are with the average range of EVs. Yet the public worries about range.

Further, the gap between public perceptions and commonly held views of the industry may be increasing. There are a multitude of reasons – and surveys – on why individuals don’t buy EVs. But time and again common reasons quoted are: cost, range and charge points. These must be addressed.

The good news is that the Faraday Battery Challenge is addressing both technical and public concerns through our research agenda.

The Challenge has a huge role to play in developing batteries that cost less, and can support longer EV range, but also increasingly playing a larger role in correcting misinformation and changing perceptions.

The Faraday Battery Challenge is structured around the following three strands of work:

  • Fundamental research from the Faraday Institution
  • Innovation -Collaborative R&D projects, cofounded with industry
  • Scale up – UK Battery Industrialisation Centre – UKBIC

Fundamental research takes time but already after 16 months Faraday Institution funding has resulted in:  2 patent disclosures, with 1 to follow and another 3-4 in the pipeline; fellowship funding to 3 potential commercial spin outs; over 40 scientific publications – several in top tier journals and multiple industrial collaborations.

And in September the Faraday Institution has selected its new 5 project consortia in 4 research areas that it will fund to the tune of up to £55m.

All of these projects will conduct application-inspired research to make step changes in the understanding of battery chemistries, systems and manufacturing methods.

Collaborative research and development projects

Through the Faraday Battery Challenge UK businesses can access grants for feasibility studies and collaborative research and innovation projects that develop new and improved battery technologies that are more cost effective.

Projects to get funding so far include improving battery lifespan and range and the reuse, remanufacture and recycle of batteries at their end-of-life.

The figures on collaborative R&D are impressive – £114.5 million invested through government and industry funding in 63 projects.

The UK Battery Industrialisation Centre is set to open in 2020 in Coventry. UKBIC will offer industry, via open access, the opportunity to scale up and commercialise advanced technologies central to the development and manufacture of batteries, initially for the automotive sector but with wider application.

This means, it will be working to perfect production of the next generation of battery systems across electrode, cell, module and pack levels to allow companies to move to full scale, high volume battery manufacturing (i.e. ‘Gigafactories’) and high volume electric vehicle production as subsequent investments.

But why the need for a UK-based gigafactory? The auto industry is a game of tight margins.

Batteries are bulky and expensive to ship and battery production – at cell, module and pack level – will need to be co-located with EV manufacturing.

This points to the imperative for a UK-based gigafactory. It is likely that, in order to meet the demand by 2025, the UK will need to attract large scale battery cell manufacturing investment from overseas based on an iteration of known Lithium Ion Technology.

This along with a strong UK chemical supply chain, and indigenous OE demand, creates a demand-driven end to end value chain in the UK.

If you then combine with multi-fold growth beyond 2025, this creates the industrial backbone and market opportunity for a thriving UK intellectual and physical supply chain in new, breakthrough battery solutions at which the UK excels.

Author – Tony Harper, Faraday Battery Challenge Director, UK Research and Innovation