The indications are that sadly, it is the end of the road for Britishvolt’s new battery factory in Cambois, Blyth. The UK’s foremost investor in battery technologies has been on ‘life support’ for several months as operational funding dried up and construction activities at the Cambois site were delayed or cancelled.
In its two and a half short years of existence, Britishvolt went from a one-man start-up to a recognised player in the UK battery industry employing three hundred staff. It had the backing of FTSE 100 companies Glencore and the equipment rental company Ashtead. Initially, with no experience in battery manufacture and no customers for its intended products, Britishvolt claimed to be ‘The UK’s foremost investor in battery technologies.’ The ‘fake it until you make it’ approach seemed to have paved the pathway to success.
The project ‘sparks’ Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson promoted Britishvolt as a ‘Global British’ home-based entrant leading the way in the expanding global auto battery market. The chosen site for this new battery ‘giga factory’ on the decommissioned Blyth Power Station site also fed into his ‘levelling up’ claims. Lars Carlstrom, the Swedish Britishvolt founder had always targeted UK government subsidies as a necessary source of funding. Although Carlstrom resigned a year after company foundation following revelations of a previous conviction for fraud in Sweden, his wish seemed to have finally come to fruition in July this year when the government provided Britishvolt with a final grant offer reported to be £100 million.
Johnson’s Business Secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng said:
‘I’m delighted to confirm we have now provided Britishvolt with a final grant offer through the Automotive Transformation Fund [an £850 million programme to electrify Britain’s automotive supply chain and protect UK’s competitiveness in the global market]. The Blyth gigafactory will turbocharge our plans to embed a globally competitive electric vehicle supply chain in the UK and it is fantastic to see how the project is progressing.’
Three months later Johnson has gone, Kwasi Kwarteng has crashed the economy and gone, and it seems that Britishvolt may soon also be gone.
Looming funding crisis
Britishvolt was always going to need vast amounts of funding between start-up and the time when revenues would switch on and light up the finances. The Britishvolt plan to first build a factory and then get the customers, was viewed with scepticism in the industry, as was the decision to develop new in-house technology rather than utilise established designs. The UK government grant is apparently linked to the purchase of equipment to be installed in the ‘as yet’ to be constructed giga factory. Other promised private financing is also apparently linked to project milestone delivery. Britishvolt does not have financing to get to these milestones and although still searching for solutions, has apparently not been able to bridge the gap. A retreat into administration is reportedly under consideration, may happen imminently, and could result in total job losses. At least the administrators will be able to operate out of the company’s new Mayfair offices rather than the Blyth workspace at Commissioners Quay.
What next for Cambois?
Britishvolt apparently did well in selecting the site which is thought to be to be one of the best in Europe for battery manufacturing because of its deep seaport, rail links, and proximity to clean energy supplies. The availability of enthusiastic and skilled local employees in this time of increasing labour shortages must also be an attraction to potential employers. There is therefore hopefully a good chance that another, more established manufacturer will take up the challenge of developing the site if Britishvolt does go into administration. Keep fingers crossed for the future.