Ambitious plans have been revealed for Britain’s first gigafactory capable of producing enough fuel cells and battery packs to power 100,000 zero carbon electric cars.
The project in south Wales, which is designed to put the UK in the race to be a global hub for the electrified vehicle industry, comes from Britishvolt, a start-up company founded by a Swedish automotive entrepreneur best known as a former associate of Vladimir Antonov, the jailed Russian businessman.
Lars Carlstrom was once an executive with Saab, the Swedish carmaker which closed in 2013
Britishvolt has unveiled plans to build a gigafactory capable of producing 10 gigawatt hours (GWh) of lithium ion batteries a year from early next year at Bro Tathan, on the Cardiff airport commercial complex where Aston Martin Lagonda has opened its new carmaking factory.
A 1 kilometre-long factory is intended to get into production in 2023, with two more 10GWh facilities to be added. The whole project is planned to employ up to 4,000 people overall.
Gigafactory is a term popularised by Elon Musk for Tesla’s battery production factories.
Toyota’s factory in Derbyshire is moving toward producing exclusively hybrid cars. Jaguar Land Rover has a stated ambition of leaping into the electric arena but to date has only one small-volume model built in Austria. Aston Martin had been due to relaunch the Lagonda marque as an all-electric luxury model at its south Wales factory but the company’s financial crisis meant that being postponed.
The promise of bringing so much employment to an area blighted by the rundown of the steel industry and the closure of the Ford engine plant at nearby Bridgend has persuaded the Welsh government to make initial offers of incentives for Britishvolt to locate there rather than in the West Midlands.
Britishvolt has been founded and is co-owned by Lars Carlstrom. The Swede, 55, is a former executive at Saab, who was the right-hand man of Mr Antonov during attempts to save the now-defunct Swedish carmaker earlier this century.
Mr Antonov, who turns 45 this month, went on to gain notoriety in Britain after his interests acquired Portsmouth football club in 2011. The club’s parent company went into administration over unpaid taxes and the team was docked ten points by the Football League.
The Russian, who was born in Uzbekistan, was later extradited from Britain and last year was jailed in Russia for fraud. There is no suggestion that Mr Larstrom was in any way involved in Mr Antonov’s criminal activities. It is understood no interests of Mr Antonov are involved in Britishvolt.
The co-founder of Britishvolt, Orral Nadjari, 38, is described as an Abu Dhabi-based financier who is charged with raising funds for what is said to be an initial £1.2 billion investment.
Britishvolt’s chief strategy officer is Isobel Sheldon, who until recently was a director at the Coventry-based UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, an offshoot of the Advanced Propulsion Centre, the government’s main conduit for state-funding of zero-carbon technology.
Ms Sheldon indicated that Britishvolt is in talks with the world’s leading battery producers — all based in the Far East — such as LG Chem and Samsung of South Korea, CATL of China, and Panasonic, the Japanese company behind Tesla’s power packs.
“We aim to deliver a scalable, onshore production and diverse portfolio of world-class lithium ion batteries to support the unprecedented transition to electrification,” Mr Carlstrom said.
“The Welsh government has welcomed us with open arms. The sheer scale of this project means our gigafactory will have one of the top three largest single footprints in Europe.”