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Energy storage battery: Britain lags behind in a critical technology war

In July this year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his first speech on the 10th Street of Downing Street that the UK "is a world leader in battery technology" in order to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

However, reality is not as convincing as Johnson’s statement. Although British universities have a good track record in battery research, the UK is far behind in terms of manufacturing.

Research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie said that the UK's share of lithium-ion battery manufacturing in the world is less than 1%.

Wood Mackenzie analyst Milan Thakore questioned Johnson's assertion that the UK is leading the way in battery technology.

He said: "It is important to emphasize how backward the UK is in battery manufacturing, rather than pretending that we have any substantial status in this battery competition." Experts have warned that the UK faces such risks and the future. Automakers with operations in the UK may shift production to other locations, such as closer to supplying a lot of cheap batteries to their electric vehicles.

The Faraday Institution said that the UK auto industry could lose about 114,000 jobs by 2040 without government support and concerted efforts to promote battery and electric vehicles. The Institute is a UK research organization dedicated to promoting power storage technology and has committed to investing £78 million in battery research.

Its chief executive, Neil Morris, said: "Automotive manufacturing and battery manufacturing have a tendency to coexist, which is a risk."

“If this happens and the UK does not produce batteries, then the risk for the UK is that the auto industry may shift from the UK, resulting in fewer jobs.”

Since the 1980s, overseas companies led by Nissan have opened factories here, and the British auto industry has ushered in a renaissance. However, due to the uncertainty of Brexit, investment in the industry has been falling sharply.

In February, Honda announced that it plans to shut down the Svenden factory that produces the Civic. Ford said in June that it would close the Brijd plant that produces the engine.

As the current generation of cars is in trouble, the UK has no specific plans to build batteries for large “super factories”. The so-called "super factory" refers to a large lithium-ion battery factory, such as a factory built by Tesla in the United States to power its electric vehicles.

Morris said that by 2040, the UK will need 4 to 13 high-capacity lithium-ion battery manufacturing plants to meet the expected demand for electric vehicles. Automakers doing business in the UK are negotiating with Asian battery manufacturers for investment in the UK, but the uncertainty of Brexit is not helpful.

“The demand will definitely come, and the UK may support the establishment of a super factory.” Morris said, “This requires a (car manufacturer) to reach an agreement with a (battery) manufacturer and decided to set up the production base in the UK.”

Lithium-ion batteries are not only the leading technology for electric vehicles, but also used to store energy, especially renewable energy such as wind and solar.

The National Grid, which is responsible for the UK's energy transmission infrastructure, said that 475 megawatts of battery power played a role in helping to restore electricity supply after nearly a million homes and businesses in the UK were affected by power outages this month.

In the 1980s, Oxford University developed lithium-ion batteries, but Sony Corporation of Japan first commercialized it in 1991 for use in camcorders.

Anil Srivastava, chief executive of Swiss battery manufacturer Leclanche, said the UK needs to focus on how to commercialize local university innovation and then scale quickly. Leclanche has signed a joint venture agreement with Warwick University in the UK, hoping to make a breakthrough in battery research.

Srivastava said: "There is a huge gap between the technology that is effective in university laboratories and the technology needed to achieve industrialization."

Wood Mackenzie said that Asian countries led by China now dominate the global production of lithium-ion batteries, accounting for 80% of the market. McKinsey estimates that by 2025, the share of Asian companies will fall to 78%, while the share of Europe (excluding the UK) will rise from the current 4% to 15%.

Nicholas Beatty, co-founder and director of British battery energy storage equipment operator Zenobe Energy, said frankly that if we compare China's current situation and focus on huge investments in this area, we are clearly far behind. . ”

“The (UK) government has provided some small projects in terms of investment and support... but if you look at what is happening in China, it really looks very insignificant. Not only in the UK but also in Europe.”

Despite this, some battery companies still see Brexit as an opportunity to boost UK manufacturing, thereby improving UK energy security and reducing carbon emissions.

"British Brexit means that you may get back on the battery," said Simon Daniel, chief executive of Moixa in the UK. "We need more batteries, in order to regain control of energy and keep it low. The cost of energy, keeping energy localized, and the only way to do this in a renewable economy is to have a battery."

The British Commerce Department said, “It is investing millions of pounds in research to support the development of new battery technologies, including a dedicated center that will power the UK’s first super factory.”

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