As part of a select media delegation, I recently visited the United Kingdom to see how the country is pushing to become a technology superpower. UK PM Rishi Sunak in his opening speech at London Tech Week 2023 said that he wants UK to be the ‘Technology Capital of the World’. Considerable investment is being made in the field of AI, IoT, ML and other new age technologies to attract companies from all over the world to set up their R&D base in the United Kingdom. One such area where the country is pushing technology is electric vehicles.
With the progress of EVs across the globe, the demand has increased manifold. In fact, the UK ranks itself high on the list of countries with maximum EV penetration. However, electric vehicles are not perfect yet. At the heart of EVs are batteries, which is the biggest concern as well as opportunity for any country working on electric vehicles. Whoever cracks the right EV battery will dominate the industry.
That’s exactly what Tesla did with its Superchargers in the US. The Elon Musk-led EV maker has been working hard on improving superchargers for electric vehicles. They’ve gotten to the point where other major automakers like Hyundai and Rivian, with their own electric cars on the market, are planning to use the Tesla Supercharger network to entice buyers. That’s what the UK is doing with electric batteries. The basis of this research on EV batteries has been done in the Midlands region.
The Midlands is home to a large number of automakers from around the world and is often referred to as a modern Detroit. Companies such as Jaguar Land Rover, Ford, Mahindra, Tata, Gordon Murray, TVS are taking advantage of technological advances in the UK. While these companies have production skills, among other things, they rely on institutions such as the Manufacturing Technology Center and Warwick Manufacturing Group for their research on EV batteries.
Manufacturing Technology Center
Take for example the Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC) in Anstey Park, Coventry. Manufacturing Technology Center (MTC) was established in 2010 as an independent Research & Technology Organization (RTO). In an exclusive conversation with Zee News, Professor Chris White, Director, Center for Industrial Policy Research, said, MTC aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry – often referred to as the ‘Valley of Death’.
In one such research towards the advancement of electric vehicles, the engineers at MTC used laser surface micro-texturing, a new, innovative process using ultra short, fast lasers that can be used in Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) desired performance can be achieved. Batteries. The current breed of EVs are powered by Li-ion batteries, but their full potential has not yet been harnessed.
MTC’s technology aims to make the batteries more usable in extreme atmospheric conditions. This optimized battery developed by MTC showed a 32% improvement in surface adhesion, making for a more robust and safer cell than off-the-shelf Li-ion batteries. Professor White further says that MTC can work with auto companies to make EVs more attractive.
Warwick Manufacturing Group
Then you have the Warwick Manufacturing Group, which is based on the University of Warwick campus. WMG is a collaboration between academia and the public and private sectors, promoting innovation in science, technology and engineering. WMG was founded in 1980 by the late Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharya to reinvigorate UK manufacturing and help businesses overcome barriers to innovation.
He is widely acknowledged for playing an influential role in the acquisition of Jaguar Land Rover by Tata Motors in 2008. WMG’s battery research is carried out in collaboration with industry at the Energy Innovation Center (EIC), which is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. (HMVC). We were given an exclusive tour of the state-of-the-art EV lab where WMG is working on improving and manufacturing advanced Lithium-Ion batteries.
It is a unique UK facility capable of producing full-size prototype battery cells in sufficient quantities for industrial testing. “The electrification of transport is important to provide acceptable air quality and reduce energy consumption. This requires new technologies and new skills that the current industry is struggling to deliver,’ said Professor Robin Clarke, Dean of Warwick Manufacturing Group.
WMG won the bid to set up UKBIC (UK Battery Industrialisation Centre). While EIC focuses on proof of concept including development of electrochemical materials and cells, UKBIC industrialises processes for companies setting up commercial battery production in gigafactories. Professor Clarke further said that the aim is to electrify the transport network, which can be the backbone of clean transport.
We saw how WMG is leading the electrification agenda through technology development covering the entire battery life-cycle from raw materials to recycling, working at an industrial scale. Overall, a visit to the WTC and WMG gives us a better understanding of where the UK is heading in terms of the development of electric vehicles and EV batteries.