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Britain in talks with six companies about gigafactories



Six companies are in talks with the UK about building so-called gigafactories for production of batteries for electric cars, in moves that could secure the future of Britain’s automobile industry.

Carmakers Ford and Nissan, conglomerates LG and Samsung, and start-ups Britishvolt and InoBat Auto are in discussions with the UK government or local authorities about locations for potential factories and financial support, according to people briefed on the talks.

While Britishvolt has gone public with its project, the other companies’ discussions with the government or councils about gigafactories have so far been private. The plans by Nissan, the largest carmaker in the UK, were revealed by the Financial Times last month.

The British government has put securing car battery investment at the heart of efforts to sustain the country’s auto industry, as ministers pursue ambitious plans to cut carbon emissions.

The government’s plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and hybrids by 2035 will require the UK’s vehicle plants to shift to producing electric models.

“We need gigafactories to sustain UK car manufacturing for the long term,” said Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, a trade body.

Leading carmakers with plants in Britain. Map of UK showing car production in 2020 of 5 leading carmarkers  Nissan, Sunderland - 245,649 JLR, Solihull - 243,908 BMW, Oxford - 175,736 Toyota, Derby - 116,261 Stellantis, Ellesmere Port - 32,234

A UK business department spokesperson said the government was “dedicated to securing gigafactories, and continue to work closely with investors and vehicle manufacturers to progress plans to mass produce batteries in the UK”.

British research institutions, such as the Battery Innovation Center and the Faraday Institute, are seen as key levers to attract investment in battery manufacturing.

But the UK risks being outgunned by the EU, which has prepared a large incentive package to woo battery makers.

While the UK government has a £500m fund to help finance battery plants, the EU has assembled a €2.9bn war chest, with countries such as France and Germany offering additional money to augment their attractiveness.

So far, there are 38 planned gigafactories across Europe, according to green lobby group Transport & Environment. Only one has been disclosed in the UK: Britishvolt’s project.

“There’s a de facto competition between the UK and Europe, and whoever wins the gigafactories wins the auto business,” said Andy Palmer, vice chair of InoBat.

The UK auto industry has recorded plant closures in recent times and been buffeted by Brexit, but it still produced 1.3m cars a year before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The sector’s push towards electrification means the remaining UK plants must secure locally made batteries or risk losing out on manufacturing new models.

Petrol and diesel engines made in one location are often then shipped across the world before being fitted into cars on assembly lines, but the heavy weight of batteries means they need to be produced close to vehicle plants in order to minimise transport costs.

While the talks between companies interested in making batteries and the UK government raise hopes it can secure investments, none of the discussions have been finalised.

One of the most surprising interventions has been by Ford, which has not made cars in the UK for almost 20 years but has a plant manufacturing engines for vans at Dagenham.

In talks with the British government, which are at an early stage, Ford has indicated it is exploring making batteries in the UK that would then be shipped to Turkey for use in a planned electric version of its Transit van, said people familiar with the discussions.

This proposal echoes current Ford practice where its engines made in Dagenham go into diesel Transit vans assembled by the company in Turkey.

Ford may make parts of battery modules in Britain — including cells — before shipping them to Turkey for final work and installation.

A Ford spokesperson said it would “confirm the battery supplier for the Transit . . . closer to its launch”, due in 2023.

Last month, Ford announced plans to form a battery joint venture with SKI, a Korean manufacturer.

A location has yet to be identified by Ford for where batteries would be made in the UK, although it is unlikely to be at one of the company’s existing British sites.

When identifying potential gigafactory locations, power — particularly renewable energy — is a major consideration because the process of making batteries is very energy intensive.

This issue may mean that north-east England, which has good access to the electricity grid, has a better chance of securing plants than the Midlands, the traditional centre of the UK auto industry.

Nissan’s negotiations with the government about building a battery plant at its Sunderland manufacturing complex hinge on energy costs, said people briefed on the talks. The company wants to cut its energy costs to increase the competitiveness of the site.

issan’s negotiations with the government about building a battery plant at its Sunderland manufacturing complex hinge on energy costs, said people briefed on the talks.
Nissan’s negotiations with the government about building a battery plant at its Sunderland manufacturing complex hinge on energy costs, said people briefed on the talks. © Owen Humphreys/PA

In the Midlands, local authorities have put together a plan to turn the old Coventry airport into a battery plant.

Having submitted a planning application, the councils now want to bid for part of the government’s £500m fund to try to secure a battery maker.

InoBat is in talks with the local authorities in the Midlands to locate a facility on the disused Coventry airport, said two people briefed on the negotiations.

The company wants to focus on producing a limited number of batteries for high performance vehicles.

Andy Street, the former John Lewis boss who is now mayor of the West Midlands, said he “will not rest until the West Midlands has the gigafactory it needs”.

Britishvolt rejected the old Coventry airport because of insufficient power, said people with knowledge of the decision.

Its proposed manufacturing site in Blyth in Northumberland is next to a power interconnector bringing renewable energy from Iceland.

But Britishvolt faces questions about its plans: unlike LG and Samsung, the start up does not have proven in-house battery technology.

People close to Britishvolt said it was in talks with more than 10 potential customers.

BritishVolt’s proposed manufacturing plant in Blyth, Northumberland, is next to a power interconnector bringing renewable energy from Iceland.
BritishVolt’s proposed manufacturing plant in Blyth, Northumberland, is next to a power interconnector bringing renewable energy from Iceland. © BritishVolt

LG and Samsung, two of the largest global players in battery manufacturing that have plants across Europe, are both in early stage talks with the UK government about investments, said people familiar with the matter.

However, LG and Samsung are only likely to proceed if they have deals with major carmakers. The groups did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

With Nissan tied into an exclusive contract with its Chinese battery partner Envision, the largest available UK customers for battery makers are Jaguar Land Rover and BMW’s Mini.

JLR, which unveiled plans this year to phase out petrol and diesel engines by 2035, will probably be the key to Britain securing investments by battery makers.

Range Rover Sport on the production line. JLR will probably be the key to Britain securing investments by battery makers © Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

JLR chief executive Thierry Bolloré told a Financial Times’ conference last month that “the goal is to have the full value chain as close as possible in the UK”, but did not elaborate further on British sourcing plans for batteries.

BMW’s Mini plant in Oxford currently makes one electric model using batteries imported from Germany, but may ultimately expand production.

“When and if you bring more electric production to Oxford is not decided yet,” said Mini boss Bernd Körber.

Stellantis, which owns the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port, is also in talks with the government to make an electric car at the site but has yet to engage in battery sourcing discussions, said one person briefed on the situation.

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'It’s more than sport – every day we are fighting for our rights to be equal’




French pro basketball player and podcaster Diandra Tchatchouang on her role beyond the court

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Emily Dean on how allyship amplifies the female experience on film




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When I was six years old, I decided to be an artist. When I was 12, I decided to be a filmmaker. And instead of saying no, you can’t do that, or it’s not possible, my mum bought me a video camera.

After several years of working in the industry, I’m working with a female director for the first time. And it’s been such a gratifying experience. Women express leadership in different ways. Maybe you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room. But you can have great ideas.

And the best thing about being mentored by women and being a mentor to women is that make friends with women.

There’s something so powerful the women coming alongside other women, especially in a group setting. Because it means that you can and back each other up. You can support each other’s decisions, and you can amplify each other’s voices.

It’s about seeing yourself in your work. Seeing some part of yourself reflected is really gratifying. It’s also important that we speak up for female characters. I want to see girls and women on screen who have the whole cacophony of experience of what it’s like to be female.

I want to see their flaws. I want to feel their struggles. I want to see their joy. That is so important to making a character feel real. And it took me a little while to settle into myself and realise, if the characters I like to come up with are not your everyday run of the mill characters you see in animation, that’s fine. Because this is who I am.

When you walk into a story room, when you’re working on a film, you have to leave your ego at the door. I think that can be interpreted like keep your ego out of the work. But I’d also say for women who are maybe more shy that leaving your ego at the door means you walk in. And your job is to focus on what’s best for the story and for the film.

The story needs you. The film needs you, and it needs your best ideas. It won’t thrive unless you speak up.

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Crimea ‘water war’ opens new front in Russia-Ukraine conflict




When a cyclone drenched Crimea in rainfall last month, rivers burst their banks and thousands of people in the Russia-annexed peninsula had to be evacuated from the floods.

The silver lining to the deluge was that the rains also filled Crimea’s depleted reservoirs, temporarily alleviating a crisis brought on by an extended drought and a Ukrainian blockade of the Soviet-built canal that previously provided up to 85 per cent of the peninsula’s water supplies.

Moscow’s struggle to supply Crimea’s 2.4m residents with fresh water has become a flashpoint in an undeclared war, seven years after Russian troops seized Crimea from Ukraine. An even longer conflict between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 14,000 lives.

Russia has accused Ukraine of “genocide” over the building of a concrete dam across the North Crimean Canal, in addition to the existing sandbag and earth dam that was built in 2014. Kyiv fears that Moscow is plotting a military incursion to secure water flows from the nearby Dnipro river.

Coupled with surging food prices and international isolation because of western sanctions, the water shortages threaten to undermine President Vladimir Putin’s promise of a better life for Crimeans under Russian rule.

Though state-run pollsters claim Putin remains more popular in Crimea than on average across Russia, the patriotic fervour that sent his approval ratings to record levels after the 2014 annexation has long since subsided.

Map showing Ukraine and the North Crimean Canal, Crimea

“The water reserves and fields have dried up,” said Viktor, 47, a Crimean who regularly travels to Ukraine for work. “Each year it’s getting worse and worse. We didn’t have this problem before annexation,” he said, adding that most Crimeans blamed Ukraine for the crisis.

A $3.7bn bridge across the Kerch Strait linking Crimea with mainland Russia has become a conduit for trucks ferrying water for locals to take away in plastic containers. Popular Black Sea tourist resorts can turn on their taps for just a few hours a day during peak droughts, while the canal has filled with grass and weeds.

Crimea’s agricultural output has fallen owing to a lack of irrigation, making it all but impossible to grow water-intensive crops such as rice.

Construction of the canal began in 1957 after the Soviet Union transferred the arid peninsula to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to manage rebuilding after the second world war. The waterway allowed for the cultivation of arable land and helped transform Crimea into a haven for tourists.

“The canal symbolises the stupidity of the Kremlin in occupying Crimea. They didn’t weigh the consequences at a moment of electoral euphoria that was fed by their own propaganda,” said Oleksiy Reznikov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister in charge of reintegration policies for the occupied territories.

“Why didn’t you think about water?” he asked.

The North Crimean Canal is seen with a low level of water
The severely depleted North Crimean Canal previously provided up to 85% of the peninsula’s water supplies © Pierre Crom/Getty

Workers collect potatoes on the North Crimean Canal
Workers collect potatoes on the North Crimean Canal. Ukraine blocked the irrigation channel after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea © Pierre Crom/Getty

Russia, while pressing Ukraine to reopen the waterway, has launched a Rbs50bn ($680m) programme to bolster Crimea’s supplies, repairing crumbling infrastructure, drilling wells, adding storage and desalination capacity.

Russian prosecutors last week filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights accusing Ukraine of “flagrant violations” over the issue. Crimea’s governor plans to file a separate complaint demanding up to Rbs1.5tn in compensation.

“Kyiv has essentially used Crimea’s infrastructure dependence on Ukraine, which came about in the Soviet era, as a weapon of mass destruction against all Crimeans. The water blockade is an act of state terrorism and ecocide, but the international community is failing to notice the Kyiv regime’s crimes,” Sergei Aksyonov, the peninsula’s governor, said in written comments to the Financial Times.

Reznikov said Russia, as the occupation force, was responsible under the Geneva Conventions for securing water and other basic needs for local the population. Ukraine has filed its own multi-billion-dollar claims against Russia, citing losses caused by what it describes as an illegal land grab.

With tensions rising, Russia deployed tens of thousands of troops and advanced weapons to Crimea this spring, as well as to the border of the two breakaway eastern regions where Moscow-backed separatists have battled government troops into an eighth year.

Col Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s army intelligence unit, said Russia was looking to seize the canal as well as adjacent territory to connect Crimea with the breakaway regions. Russian troops could advance on Nova Kakhovka, the Dnipro river town where the canal begins.

Some Crimean Tatars, an indigenous ethnic group whose members largely opposed Russia’s annexation, have set up a makeshift camp near the dams to make sure the water flow does not resume.

A Crimean Tatar activist on the North Crimean Canal
A Crimean Tatar activist enters his base on the North Crimean Canal. Tatars have set up camp to make sure the water flow does not resume © Pierre Crom/Getty

A Ukraine military vehicle drives past a Soviet monument marking the entrance to Brylivka
A Ukraine military vehicle drives past a Soviet monument marking the entrance to Brylivka, a village on the North Crimean Canal © Pierre Crom/Getty

“It will be a full-scale war,” said a 55-year-old activist who gave his name as Alibaba. He said he and his fellow activists were willing to take up arms to defend the blockaded canal. “There will be nowhere to hide in these fields. Let them try,” he added.

At the Kalanchak border crossing near the new dam, Russian and Ukrainian troops have dug trench positions a few hundred meters apart.

Tensions have also flared in the Black Sea, not just with Ukraine but also with western navies. Russia fired warning shots in the path of a British destroyer sailing through contested waters off Crimea last month. Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city, is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

Moscow has insisted it would not go to war over Crimea’s water supplies, even as it conceded that Ukraine was unlikely to restore them. “All these hysterical statements from Ukrainian politicians are completely baseless — they’re just stupid, aggressive propaganda aimed at inciting hatred between the Russian and Ukrainian people. There won’t be any ‘water war’,” Crimea governor Aksyonov said.

Reznikov, the Ukrainian minister, said Kyiv was ready to provide Crimea with humanitarian assistance, including drinking water, which it already does for the separatist-run eastern territories, but no request had been made.

“For Russia to admit they’re weak is very difficult . . . it would amount to an admission that they made the wrong decision,” he said.

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