Written evidence from CPI (BEV0024)



  1. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) (with 600+ employees and £78.1M turnover) is a UK based Technology Innovation Centre and the process arm of the UK’s High Value Manufacturing Catapult. Established to support the UK process manufacturing industry, CPI collaborates with universities, SMEs and large corporates to help overcome innovation challenges and develop next-generation products and processes. CPI connects academia, businesses and funders to bring bright ideas and research into the marketplace. CPI has £170m of open access development and prototyping facilities and hosts five dedicated national innovation centres (Formulation, Biotechnology, Biologics, Electronics and Medicine Manufacturing) which underpin major markets such as energy, materials, FMCGs, healthcare, electronics, aerospace and automotive. These state-of-the-art, digitally enabled open access facilities are available for CPI’s partners to utilize in the proofing, development and commercialization of their new products or processes. CPI has industry relevant expertise relating to materials scale-up (including process engineering support), high-throughput formulation (to rapidly develop formulation space for new or existing materials sets), coating capabilities (bench top to R2R).  All supported by an extensive characterisation capability including electrochemical testing.  CPI has been involved in a wide range of Innovate UK funded Faraday Challenge projects, directly working on battery development.  These range in activities from scale-up of anode material synthesis, to investigating alternative materials within known slurries, and interface development and evaluation of sensor technologies within cells.  We are agnostic to the cell chemistry or market sector and have a track record of delivering on collaborative R&D projects.




  1. Does the UK have a sufficient supply of critical materials to support vehicle battery production?


a)      For the next 10 years lithium-ion batteries (LiB) are likely to be the dominant cathode active material (CAM) chemistry in the automotive sector, requiring lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese raw materials.  These materials account for over 50% of the total battery cost with the primary route for obtaining these materials through mining.  Almost all these materials are imported, leaving the UK battery production sector reliant on these imports.

b)      Lithium ore mining is dominated by Australia and South America (Chile, Argentina) but the UK has lithium mines that are expanding to meet the rising demand and CPI are collaborating with companies who generate lithium using low carbon energy sources.  If expansion plans are realised this could meet UKs lithium needs, but they will need financial investment to install capabilitiesWithout these companies expanding, larger and larger quantities of lithium will be imported.

c)       Nickel and cobalt raw materials are not mined in the UK, these elements are usually impurities when mining other metals e.g. copper. Most of the cobalt ores mined are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are then exported to China for refining, making the UK dependent on this route. High purity nickel metal is refined at the Vale Clydach site in south Wales, one of the largest pure nickel refineries in Europe using ore from its Canadian mines.  With the increasing need to import nickel and cobalt, once it is used in the UK there needs to be a focus on recycling to avoid the cost of sending essential raw materials back out of the country, which is currently the case.  There is only one small scale CAM manufacturer currently operating in the UK, so when nickel and cobalt materials are recycled there are no processing facilities to utilise these critical raw materials for making CAM precursorTypical LiBs from vehicle use have a lifetime of 7 years and without a concerted effort to recycle the ever-increasing number of batteries the UK will pay to import raw materials then pay again for export to a recycling facility. 

d)      Another key raw material for battery production is graphite (synthetic and natural)Natural graphite is mined while synthetic graphite is produced using petroleum feedstocks.  The UK chemical industry has experience of producing and using graphite products, but this is largely used in other sectors. The UK is uniquely positioned with Phillips66 Humber refinery producing the pre-cursor for synthetic graphite that is being shipped around the world. We need to ensure that companies like James Durrans who have a long history of producing graphite products get the support they need to develop production capability in the UK or they will likely go to other countries. CPI are working with UK companies to assess graphite generation suitable for use in LiBsAs with CAM production graphite production is energy intensive and due to the lower bulk density of graphite, shipping this raw material around the world will become increasingly more costly, highlighting the need for a local supply. Silicon alloys are the other main anode material and research in this area is increasing because of the performance benefits over graphite. This technology is not as advanced as graphite but with further developments there will be a need for a supply of silicon raw materials.

e)      So far only the anode and cathode chemicals have been considered but there are also additives (binders, dispersants, electrolytes) and metal foils.  It has been reported that the UK battery demand for the automotive sector to be over 100 GWh per annum by 2030 and this requires approximately 250,000 km of copper foil.  To supply this quantity will require companies to set up production as the UK is current an importer of copper foil.  There are start up companies looking into urban mining copper and refining to produce copper foil for battery applications. It is difficult to comment on the additives because each battery company will have their own formulation, or a formulation requested by a customer. 


  1. What can the UK learn from investment in other countries in the establishment of gigafactories?


f)        From our interactions with collaborators across Europe there tends to be a trend in the story behind successful gigafactories.  Many follow a similar path to investment.  Initial investment to establish the company and build the workforce (often a mix of local government and private investment) then establishing agreement of security of supply of materials, then follows partnerships or supply agreements with automotive manufacturers for the cells to be manufactured and then follows the investment of significant funds from multiple sources, typically including significant investment/subsidies/tax incentives from national government or European commission sources.   Effectively these gigafactories were able to take risks early to enable the potential future reward due to these investments/subsidies.

g)       Our interactions with technology suppliers showed that Digitalisation is much more advanced in South-East Asia, China and North America than in Europe. Process Analytical Technology and digital process control is standard across the supply chain in these areas according to technology providers, whereas UK batteries manufacturing relies heavily on operator experience and manual intervention. This will limit the UK’s ability to grow the batteries sector due to a skills shortage in the sector. Interactions with UK batteries manufacturers across the supply chain shows that digitalisation is often desired, however the additional cost of e.g. installing additional sensors and digital infrastructure is mostly regarded as prohibitive and given a low priority in the initial design. Digitalisation is often seen as a ‘nice to have’ that can be added after completion of a plant. However, our experience shows that retrofitting sensors and control software is far more expensive then considering it at the design stage. While there is a general awareness and interest in digitalisation, our conversations with UK batteries manufacturers showed that one barrier to implementation could be the lack of detailed technical understanding and a lack of quantifiable impact on productivity and sustainability. There is no established way of calculating the return of investment for inclusion of sensors and advanced process control models, hence generating the business case for the initial investment in digitalisation during the planning stage of a Gigafactory is difficult. Conversely, Verkor, a French company is aiming for Industry 5.0 excellence from initial design of their gigafactory and is aiming to become the world’s most efficient battery manufacturer with digital techniques at the heart of everything they do.

h)      Another key challenge is the translation from academic research and teaching to industrial applications: There is extensive, often ground-breaking academic research on digitalisation in batteries manufacturing, however there is very little awareness of academic research in industry. Feedback from clients and partners showed that this is largely due to the economic need to focus on generating revenue in the short term, and there is not enough resources to dedicate to future developments. This in turn leads to a loss of potential productivity gains in the future, which in turn reduces the resources that can be dedicated to R&D activities.


  1. Do we have the skills in the workforce required for the production of batteries? If not what needs to be done?


i)        Production of batteries requires a multi-disciplinary approach with everything from chemical handling to slot die coating to automation to electrochemistry.  This does not directly translate from any other manufacturing process.  However, we have observed that a number of our customers have looked to other industries and re-trained staff to expand their skills to cover a range of these multi-disciplinary skills.  Feedback from partners and clients show that there is a disconnect between academic teaching and the skills required. Collaborations between individual companies, local colleges and Catapults together with universities are becoming more important to address the skills shortage. AMTE Power for example is located in Thurso, Scotland and is geographically isolated from a skilled batteries workforce.  They are however located close to the nuclear plant at Dounreay which is currently being decommissioned.  This provides AMTE with a potential source of skilled technical operators from a different sector.  They have engaged with local training providers and are actively recruiting ex-nuclear staff and re-training for battery manufacturing. 

j)        The only existing gigafactory in the UK has their parent company based in Asia.  The majority of their UK based staff have been upskilled via knowledge and training imported from Asia.  This is an indication that the local workforce does not immediately have the skills to operate a cell manufacturing line. 

k)       UK batteries manufacturing relies heavily on operator experience due to the lack of sensors digital control. Our conversations showed that there is an appetite to ease the skills shortage by implementing digitalisation and at the same time upskilling the workforce to optimise productivity through human-machine collaboration. Conversations with partners showed that it is critical to convince the current workforce of the benefits of their own personal upskilling, as well as the increased productivity in the plant, to avoid the fear of redundancies. One positive example is a batteries assembler in England, where a positive culture of upskilling to increase productivity was established: It is very openly communicated that the goal is not to increase productivity to reduce the workforce while maintaining current levels of output, but to increase productivity so more batteries can be manufactured to grow the business sustainably.

l)        Academic research in the UK is very strong in battery development and this is producing postgraduates with deep technical knowledge in battery materials and cell characterisation for example.  However, our experience is that this does not tend to directly translate into the challenges of scaling cell manufacturingAn understanding of sustainability challenges, life-cycle analysis, technoeconomics and large scale manufacturing in general is limited.  This could be achieved by engaging training in process engineering basics for those studying PhDs within the Faraday Institution for example.  Other activities such as the WMG battery school may go some way to address the translation of lab based research skills towards cell manufacturing. 

m)    There remains a gap in skills related to materials handling at scale and scaling of the production of the battery materials that is likely to be required in the future.  Many facilities that have the capability to train users and/or be available for production of these materials on a contract basis will not handle cobalt/nickel products due to the toxicity and potential contamination of equipment.