How the UK automotive sector is driving EV battery innovation

Christopher Jones, Strategic Trends Manager at the Advanced Propulsion Centre, outlines the organisation’s recent report on the UK’s capabilities to produce EV batteries.

As the electric vehicle (EV) revolution takes shape, the automotive sector is set to dominate future battery demand, and will subsequently drive battery innovation. It has been reported that the automotive sector will represent over 80% of lithium-ion battery demand by 2030. This has opened up an opportunity for the UK to take advantage of the global EV battery market.

Outlining the UK’s potential in the EV battery sector, the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) – an organisation supporting the UK’s transition to a net-zero automotive industry – recently released a report titled ‘2025 and beyond: Promising battery cell innovations for the UK automotive sector.’ The report assesses the UK’s current capabilities in EV battery developments and explains how the UK must take advantage of specific battery technologies in order to compete in the global battery supply chain.

To find out more about this report, The Innovation Platform asked Christopher Jones, Strategic Trends Manager at the APC, about their findings and what this means for the UK’s automotive industry in the future.

The APC has recently released the ‘2025 and beyond: Promising battery cell innovations for the UK automotive sector’ report. Can you explain the background behind the report, how and why it was compiled, and its main aims?

The aim of this insight piece is to compile numerous battery announcements and strategies in an informative summary, so both technical and non-technical experts can make sense of the automotive battery landscape. It matches battery innovations with the vehicle segments (entry-level, low-cost, high volume performance, and high performance specialist) they are most suited to from a cost and performance basis.

The APC Technology Trends team assessed the relative market potential of next-generation battery innovations relative to how close they are to entering the automotive market. In collaboration with stakeholders such as the Faraday Battery Challenge, a qualitative UK capability assessment was also carried out to understand where the UK has strategic advantages in terms of IP, supply chain, and manufacturing capability.

What do the findings from the report tell us about UK battery innovation and the battery supply chain in general?

From the report’s findings, it is clear that R&D will continue to play a critical role over the next three to five years, with significant investment still needed to support the required technology and manufacturing readiness levels for the automotive market. Lithium-ion batteries are expected to continue being the leading solution for battery electric vehicles, but the lithium-ion cells we are seeing today will be very different from the lithium-ion cells we expect to see from 2025, with the process and material innovations happening as we speak. As identified in the eight emerging technologies, the APC also predicts that alternative ‘lithium-free’ chemistries, such as sodium-ion, are likely to be adopted in the automotive sector before 2030.

© iStock/deepblue4you

Across all the eight emerging technologies, the UK is currently a fast follower compared to China, the US, and some European nations. The UK has some exceptional innovation activity, a few big companies, and some good start-ups in most of the areas identified as crucial for UK automotive batteries.

However, to excel in these technology areas, the UK should adopt a parallel approach of quickly growing domestic capabilities while encouraging FDI to augment these. The UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC) plays a crucial role in attracting next-generation battery cell chemistries, with UK academia key in providing a steady flow of high-quality R&D and skilled talent.

Based on the report, what can we expect from battery cell innovations in the near future?

Eight emerging technologies are identified in the report as the most promising developments within the automotive sector, based on an assessment of commercial opportunity and readiness for these battery cell innovations. These are:

  • Silicon dominant anodes;
  • Manganese-rich cathodes;
  • Industry-scale battery materials recycling;
  • Solid state electrolytes;
  • Lithium metal anodes;
  • Dry electrode manufacturing;
  • Lithiation techniques; and
  • Sodium-ion batteries.

How will the findings influence your R&D progress?

The report brings focus on the highest impact areas for investment in EV batteries. By leveraging this insight, the UK can optimise its investment strategy and accelerate the most promising R&D projects to reach their market potential as soon as possible.

© iStock/Just_Super

What does the UK need to focus on in the near future to meet the rising demands of the automotive sector?

In the UK, a key piece of the puzzle is missing as there are currently no cathode or anode active material producers manufacturing at an industrial scale. The UK needs to attract leading material suppliers to strengthen the ecosystem around new electrode concepts and recycling, as well as meet the incoming tariff-free trade requirements for EV manufacturers trading with the European Union (EU).

Manufacturing and process R&D should be conducted to investigate cost-effective manufacturing methods for silicon-dominant anodes and the UK should double down on its strength in sodium-ion, aiming for cells that achieve >200Wh/kg for the automotive sector.

Christopher Jones
Strategic Trends Manager
Advanced Propulsion Centre

Please note, this article will also appear in the twelfth edition of our quarterly publication.

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