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Call for Evidence

Technological Innovations and Climate Change: Battery Electric Vehicles

  1. The next session of this inquiry will consider the large-scale development of UK manufacturing capacity for the production of batteries and the associated power electronics, machines and drives (PEMD) supply chain required for electric vehicles (EVs).
  2. Conventional vehicles power their engines by utilising the energy released by burning petrol or diesel. However, the burnt fuel releases CO, which contributes to climate change. A battery electric vehicle (BEV) uses the electricity from a battery to drive a motor, but no CO is released. The battery must be periodically recharged at a charging point.
  3. There are three main reasons for putting the focus on battery technology and PEMD, rather than electric vehicles as a whole. First, these elements of the vehicle represent the main technological shift between internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles and EVs, meaning scale up of supply chain is required. A delay in growing this supply chain will hold back growth of EVs or slow cost reduction. Second, nations and companies that invest in battery and related PEMD may gain a technological advantage in this evolving field, an advantage that will be reflected in jobs, profits and reduced carbon emissions. Finally, batteries are heavy and expensive to move. Ideally, manufacturers would like to site EV factories close to gigafactories (a gigafactory is a high-volume battery manufacturing plant) to reduce costs.
  4. The Government has committed to reducing CO emissions to net zero by 2050. This means that any CO emissions after that date must be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount of CO from the atmosphere. Since some CO emissions will continue after 2050, all sectors of the economy must cut emissions as low as possible—ideally to absolute zero. To help achieve this, the Government announced that it will end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030, with sales of new hybrid cars and vans to end by 2035. Consequently, from 2035, all new cars and vans on UK roads must be electric vehicles. The twin pressures of manufacturing costs and the end of sales of new cars powered by ICE vehicles has led some stakeholders to argue that the UK will need a specific number of gigafactories to serve its domestic market. It has been estimated that the UK will need eight gigafactories by 2040, each with a production capacity of 15-20GWh per annum. To put this figure into context, the largest EV battery manufacturing facility in the UK currently has an annual capacity of 2GWh.[2]
  5. Britishvolt is planning to open a gigafactory in Blyth, Northumberland. The factory will produce lithium-ion batteries, becoming operational in 2023. It will eventually manufacture more than 300,000 electric vehicles per year, and “will provide 3,000 highly skilled jobs and up to 5,000 more in the wider supply chain”.[3] Coventry City Council and Coventry Airport have formed a Joint Venture partnership and will submit outline plans for a gigafactory this year, which could be operational by 2025.[4]
  6. The Britishvolt gigafactory may draw power from Norwegian hydroelectric plants transmitted via the North Sea Link interconnector, which has its UK terminal in Cambois. The link is due to become operational this year.[5] The upcoming decommissioning[6] of various UK nuclear power stations suggests that specific provision for the power requirements of gigafactories will have to be made, in order to ensure security of supply.
  7. The Government’s strategy on battery electric vehicles is broadly outlined in the Ten Point Plan.[7] In Point 4 (Accelerating the shift to zero emission vehicles), the Government committed “up to £1 billion to support the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains, including developing ‘Gigafactories’ in the UK to produce the batteries needed at scale.” It adds that each gigafactory could provide around 2,000 jobs and that, overall, the zero emission vehicle industry (this includes vehicles powered by fuel cells, which are not within the remit of this inquiry) could support around 40,000 jobs by 2030. The first £500 million of investment will be announced in this Parliament. The Government estimates that zero emission vehicles could deliver around £3 billion of private sector investment by 2026. A delivery plan is to be published this year “setting out key milestones to deliver the new phase out dates.”
  8. The Government outlined its funding strategy for zero emission vehicles in Point 10 (Green finance and innovation) of the Ten Point Plan. This includes a Net Zero Innovation Portfolio, which targets £1 billion of funding on ten low carbon technologies, aligned with the Ten Point Plan. The Portfolio includes a £20 million fund for research into electric vehicles.[8]
  9. Electric vehicles are a new technology and so funding for Research and Development (R&D) is needed to improve them and bring them to market. The Government pledged to increase R&D funding to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.[9] Some of this funding will be administered by the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency[10] (ARIA). ARIA will be responsible for distributing £800 million of funding to high-risk, high-reward projects. The legislation establishing ARIA is currently being scrutinised by Parliament.[11]
  10. It has been estimated that six million people have skills that will be affected by the transition to net zero.[12] Many of these will need to be retrained. Furthermore, young people just entering the jobs market will also need to be trained. To help achieve this, the Government has created a Green Jobs Taskforce. The Taskforce will work “…in partnership with business, skills providers and unions, to help us develop plans for new long-term good quality, green jobs by 2030 and advise what support is needed for people in transitioning industries.”[13] A National Skills Fund has also been announced[14], and it was allocated £375 million of funding in the November 2020 Spending Review.[15]
  11. Lithium-ion batteries are currently the main battery technology used in electric vehicles. Lithium has been discovered in Cornwall and there are plans to mine it so that it can be used to help produce UK battery electric vehicles.[16] However, lithium extraction brings with it concerns about habitat destruction, pollution and excessive water use.[17] Furthermore, other minerals are also required to produce a battery electric vehicle, and the mining of some of these minerals raise concerns too. Cobalt is one such mineral, 70% of which originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo.[18] Evidence of human rights abuses have been found in Congolese cobalt mines, including child labour and dangerous working conditions.[19] An alternative may be to extract minerals from the seafloor. Studies indicate that submarine deposits of many minerals, including cobalt, are larger than terrestrial deposits. However, seafloor mineral extraction risks degrading marine biodiversity. Detailed research is lacking, but it has been suggested that the area of seafloor damaged by mineral extraction would be much larger than the area mined, and that marine life in the area would take decades to recover. In some cases recovery might not be possible, and extinctions would result.[20] Seabed mineral extraction is regulated by the International Seabed Authority, which has developed a Mining Code.[21] The first licences for seabed mineral extraction have been issued.[22]
  12. Effective battery re-use and recycling will reduce the need for mining. However, as batteries become cheaper and mining becomes more viable, so re-use and recycling become less attractive from an economic standpoint.[23] The alternatives to re-use and recycling—stockpiling and landfill—increase the possibility that batteries that have outlived their usefulness will cause pollution, which brings with it its own economic and environmental costs.
  13. The Committee is inviting written submissions to inform its forthcoming evidence session. These should focus on, but not be limited to:
    • What contribution could battery electric vehicles make to achieving net zero by 2050?
    • How well is Government policy aligned with high-level commitment for growth of battery electric vehicles to support its net zero ambition?
    • Are the UK supply chain opportunities around supply of batteries and power electronics, machines and drive supply chain clear?
    • What natural advantages in terms of access to raw materials, renewable energy supply, technological readiness, IP or other competitive advantage does the UK have to encourage development of battery manufacture in the UK?
    • What action is needed to support investment and establishment of UK gigafactories?
    • What should the Government do to ensure that gigafactories have a safe, reliable power supply which meets net zero requirements?
    • What action is needed to support growth of associated power electronics, machines and drive supply chain, including securing supply of raw materials and material processing?
    • The Government has announced £1 billion of funding to support the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains. Is this figure sufficient? How should it be split between supply chains and gigafactories?
    • The £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio will focus on research into low carbon technologies. What proportion of this funding should be directed towards battery electric vehicle research? What areas should ARIA target in distributing funding for high-risk, high-reward research into battery electric vehicles?
    • What steps should be taken to ensure the UK workforce has the necessary skills to staff gigafactories and their supporting supply chains?
    • What measures should the Government take to ensure that minerals for battery electric vehicles are sourced in a responsible way?
    • What action can Government take to support growth of secondary markets to extend lifetime use of EV batteries?
    • What steps should be taken to ensure that EV batteries are recycled at the end of their lives and not simply sent to landfill?

Written evidence should be submitted through the Committee’s web portal.

It is recommended that all submitters familiarise themselves with the Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons[24] which outlines word count, format, document size, and content restrictions.

We encourage members of under-represented groups to submit written evidence. We aim to have diverse panels of Select Committee witnesses and ask organisations to bear this in mind when we ask them to choose a representative. We are currently monitoring the diversity of our witnesses.

References

[1] DfT/OLEV/BEIS, 18 November 2020. Government takes historic step towards net-zero with end of sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030.

[2] The Driven, May 2020. Two UK battery startups eye £4 billion EV battery “gigafactory”

[3] Britishvolt, 11 December 2020, Britishvolt selects Blyth, Northumberland as the site of its first battery gigaplant.

[4] Ukgigafactory.com, 16 February 2021, Gigafactory proposals to be brought forward by public-private partnership in West Midlands.

[5] North Sea Link, https://northsealink.com/en/the-project/overview/.

[6] Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, 4 July 2019, Nuclear Provision: the cost of cleaning up Britain’s historic nuclear sites.

[7] Gov.uk, 18 November 2020, Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

[8] DfT/OZEV, 10 March 2021, £20 million fund fuels search for electric vehicle innovations.

[9] BEIS, July 2020, UK Research and Development Roadmap

[10] BEIS, 19 February 2021, UK to launch new research agency to support high risk, high reward science.

[11] UK Parliament, Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill.

[12] BEIS, 14 December 2020, Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future, CP 337.

[13] Gov.uk, 18 November 2020, Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution.

[14] BEIS, 14 December 2020, Energy white paper: Powering our net zero future, CP 337.

[15] DfE, 1 April 2021, National Skills Fund.

[16] British Lithium, https://britishlithium.co.uk/.

[17] Guardian, 8 December 2020, The curse of 'white oil': electric vehicles' dirty secret.

[18] The Extractive Industries and Society, 17 February 2021,  Cobalt mining and the corporate outsourcing of responsibility in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

[19] Amnesty International, 2017, Time to recharge.

[20] Nature, news feature, 24 July 2019, Seabed mining is coming — bringing mineral riches and fears of epic extinctions.

[21] International Seabed Authority, undated, The Mining Code.

[22] International Seabed Authority, 22 April 2021, Blue Minerals Jamaica Limited and ISA sign exploration contract for polymetallic nodules in the CCZ.

[23] Nature, Harper et al, 6 November 2019, Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles.

[24] UK Parliament, Guidance on giving evidence to a Select Committee of the House of Commons.

This call for written evidence has now closed.

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