The Thames Valley is at the heart of the developing battery technology sector in the UK. With the growth of electric vehicles, powering these new vehicles will require new and innovative battery technology. At the moment, the UK battery sector is small and dwarfed by the significant global producers of; China, Japan, South Korea and USA. However, there are pockets of expertise around the UK, and the Thames Valley is at the centre of Research & Development (R&D) in UK battery technology.
Within the UK, sales of electric cars have risen 11% from 2016-17 and as at October 2018 account for 2.4% of all cars on the road, with further expansion predicted as the combustion engine is phased out.
A number of the leading battery technology R&D companies are based in the Thames Valley, including: Williamsf1, Nexeon and Oxis Energy. The Williamsf1 team in particular are at the cutting edge of battery technology currently producing their own batteries and providing the batteries for the Formula E world championships. Although as of the next Formula E season (2019-2020), these batteries will be supplied by another leading Thames Valley battery tech company, McLaren Applied Technologies, based in Woking.
There are limited battery production facilities in the UK with nothing comparable to the commercial scale of those in the largest producing countries. Nissan in Sunderland are producing the battery technology for their Leaf model in the North East, but the new electric Mini being built in Oxford will possess batteries produced in Germany. The importance of establishing a battery plant in the UK is growing not only from a technical perspective but also because the batteries themselves are very heavy and transportation can be costly and prohibitive.
Therefore, as part of the wider Industrial Strategy and to develop the battery technology sector in the UK, the Government has looked to enhance the R&D capabilities of the UK battery sector, with the launch of the Faraday Challenge. This is a £246m commitment to assist the research and manufacture of high performing and recyclable batteries. The Faraday Challenge will be based at the Advanced Propulsion Centre in Coventry, where manufacture will take place and the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Oxfordshire where R&D will be the primary focus.
Furthermore, the Government has also launched the Battery Research Institution, which will combine the expertise and technology from the following 7 universities:
- Imperial College, London
- Newcastle University
- University College London
- University of Cambridge
- University of Oxford
- University of Southampton
- University of Warwick
These are first steps by the Government to help grow and develop the battery technology sector in the UK. The Thames Valley region already possesses a strong R&D environment and with the growth of battery technology, this will further highlight the capabilities of the area. With the combination of the practical expertise of market leading companies active within the sector and the technological research from the regions universities, the Thames Valley is well placed for further growth in this rapidly expanding sector.
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