“Other than the sites we are already working from or have earmarked, we know we will need to build at least two more factories,” says Jesper Wigardt, Northvolt’s vice-president. It remains to be seen whether one of these two sites will be in the UK. “Northvolt’s ambition is to take 25pc of the European battery-making market by 2030. The million-dollar question is whether the [rest of the] market for battery production in Europe will be run by local businesses or end up being akin to a series of South Korean and Chinese satellite factories.”
Another firm, Britishvolt, last month announced the location of the UK’s first gigafactory: St Athan, a Welsh town where Aston Martin also has a plant. Orral Nadjari, its co-founder, says building work is due to begin in the second quarter of next year. That will follow a debut on the London Stock Exchange. The company needs to raise around £2.6bn to deliver a 30 gigawatt factory, which it hopes to have fully up and running by 2027.
“We have managed to secure enough funding to get us all the way through to quarter one, quarter two next year, so we will be ready to put spades in the ground. We will also be listed by then and the capital markets will be very keen on this project. I am currently discussing [the float] with several different investment banks.”
Isobel Sheldon, Britishvolt’s strategy chief, admits the “battery cell brigade and the fuel cell brigade have been at loggerheads”, but insists the technologies are “complementary”.
“The problem with fuel cells is producing the fuel,” she adds. Around three quarters of the energy is lost in production with hydrogen because the gas has to be compressed. Less than 25pc of the energy is lost in the production of electric batteries, Sheldon explains.
“The commonly held view within government is that for long-haul road transport, the only sustainable solution for that is to go [hydrogen] fuel cell. [But] that could be a little bit off in terms of timing. We’re talking 10 to 15 years to get it rolling out in any meaningful way. We have an environmental problem that we have got to solve now. And the only way we can do that is to take that early advantage that batteries give us.”