The long-awaited UK battery strategy landed today, setting out HM Government’s vision for the UK to achieve a globally competitive battery supply chain by 2030: UK battery strategy - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
The 2030 timeline itself shows the overall alignment of the strategy with energy transition, and demonstrates a welcome urgency in focussing on the whole value chain, from upstream critical minerals mining through refining and processing to EV batteries and utility scale battery energy storage (BESS).
For the critical minerals sector, the key difference between the battery strategy and the recently-updated UK Critical Minerals Strategy lies in the detail of the funding commitments. This is no US$368 billion US Inflation Reduction Act energy transition package, but there are some important concrete actions on the part of HM Government to address the acknowledged funding challenges in the UK sector, including:
1. Over £2 billion of new capital and R&D funding for five years to 2030, building on the work of the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF) and the Advanced Propulsion Centre.
2. An additional £38 million to enhance the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre development facilities, boosting its capability for research and development in new chemistries and future technologies- which will be important to position the UK in next-generation battery tech such as sodium-ion, lithium-sulphur, solid state and metal-air battery systems (which all get a name-check in the strategy).
3. £12 million in the Advanced Materials Battery Industrialisation Centre, a new world-class battery materials scale-up facility in the West Midlands and North East to bridge the gap between laboratory research and commercial production.
4. £11 million in 20 competition winners developing technologies across the battery value chain in areas such as artificial intelligence and digital tools to increase battery performance, future technologies such as lithium-metal anodes and sodium-ion batteries, and improved recycling technologies.
5. Exploration of the case for new financial mechanisms to support start-ups in the battery sector, including through public/private equity investment with government seed funding.
Item 5 above highlights the underlying philosophy of the new strategy: the UK can't provide an Inflation Reduction Act-style pump-prime stimulus to the entire sector, but it can make targeted investments to mobilise private capital and make the UK a compelling investment destination. Take for example the UK Infrastructure Bank (UKIB), which invests in projects that generate a financial return, crowd-in significant private capital over time, and deliver against one or both of its strategic objectives of tackling climate change and promoting regional and local economic growth. It offers project and corporate finance and can invest across the capital structure, including debt, debt guarantee and equity products. UKIB invests in projects in cell manufacturing and the critical minerals supply chain and, in August 2023, UKIB announced a £24 million equity investment in Cornwall-based lithium exploration and development company, Cornish Lithium.
All positive- but 2030 is very close, and 2027- when the EU Rules of Origin that must be met by UK electric vehicle manufacturers in order to qualify for preferential EU tariffs- is even closer. To recharge the UK sector in time for that will take super fast chargers from hereon in.