West Midlands battery boss on taking UK output to 100GWh

Richard Moore was recently hired by West Midlands Gigafactory to lead its strategy

West Midlands Gigafactory strategy lead Richard Moore lays bare the challenges faced by UK-based EV battery firms

The newly appointed strategy boss of the West Midlands Gigafactory (WMGf) project, Richard Moore, has said the UK needs to start establishing a comprehensive EV battery production network if it’s to meet the projected industry demand over the coming years. 

Moore was hired by the firm – which recently obtained provision planning permission to break ground at its 130-acre site in Coventry – to kick-start its search for a battery-manufacturing partner.

He started his engineering career in the aerospace industry, eventually moving to BMW Rover and its successor MG Rover. He joined Jaguar Land Rover in 2011 as advanced powertrain chief engineer and soon after moved to its electric powertrain division, playing a key role in Jaguar I-Pace development. In 2019, he joined Lotus, overseeing projects including the Evija electric hypercar.

We caught up with Moore for an update on the WMGf project, as well as the battery-manufacturing landscape in the UK. He also offered a broader look at the technologies set to shake up the industry over the next decade.

Why choose WMGf?

“My background is electrification. I’ve worked on traction batteries. And as a result of that, I know all the major cell suppliers really quite well.

“I’ve got very senior colleagues in the Faraday Institute, so I’m pretty tuned into what UK PLC needs, and I want to help achieve that. If you look at the data that’s flying around – and I trust the data, because the Faraday team knows what [it’s] talking about – we need to have 100GWh capacity by the end of this decade. We need to double that by the end of the following decade.

“At the moment, we’ve a realistic line of sight [projecting] fractions of that. We need to make sure that all the options that are being studied – not just WMGf – bear fruit if we’re going to hit those figures.

“If you look at the demand, it’s not really a buyer’s market; it’s a seller’s market. All the suppliers who are laying down these operational footprints to a massive degree in Asia – and now Europe – can sell capacity quite easily. They’re in a position where they can actually choose their major customers.

“So the UK needs it because there’s the demand. But sometimes I get a bit nervous: I think that security of supply for battery cells is a modern version of security of supply for steel 20-30 years ago. And the UK needs that security of supply, so we’ve got to start laying down our footprint.”

How are discussions with OEMs progressing?

“We’re talking to the OEMs. But it’s not just the automotive industry; we’re talking to the aerospace industry as well. It’s all sectors. So off-road, rail, bus – all of them. 

“That’s what I call the right-hand side of the model: the OEMs and the customers. But then the other major conversation, and the critical part of it, is the cell suppliers. And the challenge is to marry those two together in a granular way.” 

How do you achieve that?

“The biggest challenge in doing that is really understanding cycle plans and the product plans of the OEMs. What do they need? What chemistries, what cell formats and when do they need them? In what numbers and what volumes? What does that development cycle look like and how long does it take to get into the industrialised stage and into production?

“Getting that information and having that conversation in a granular way with the major cell suppliers [is something I’ve] got a lot of experience in – that inner circle. That’s what I’ve done for years. 

“But it takes time, so the challenge is knowing how to have those conversations and knowing how long they take. And because it’s a seller’s market, cell suppliers will demand knowledge of the cycle plans in a lot of detail.”

Lots of manufacturers have recently introduced lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries. What’s your perspective on this?

“We need them all. LFP is 20% lower cost, but it has less ability to handle energy. If you want to put that into a high-volume, lower-cost product, that makes sense. If you want to put it into a more premium product, it probably doesn’t.

“The trade is that you have a lower-cost product, but you need more space to fit the [same energy capacity] in, so packaging becomes a challenge. And you’ve just got to square that circle.

“So there’s a need for both chemistries. NMC has now moved to eight-one-one [80% nickel, 10% manganese and 10% cobalt composition], but I see them running in parallel. The differentiation for me is that LFP will be in higher-volume, lower-end products.”

Given a large portion of the UK’s automotive industry is focused on premium products, do you expect NMC to become more important?

“At this stage, I wouldn’t prioritise. Gigafactories will run multiple lines, so we will have the ability to run different chemistries. 

“I would not go and push for one. For the UK’s 100GWh footprint, which we’ve got to get done in the next seven or eight years, we will need all of the above.”

Solid-state batteries have long been touted as the future, but which other battery technologies should people keep an eye on?

“The answer I always give on solid state is that every time I look at it, it’s 10 years away.

“To be fair, the last time I looked, it was an improving position. You can demonstrate it as a viable technology; the concept is proven in the automotive industry. 

“It’s a proven concept, but not to scale. So you can make one, but can you have one the size of a desk that you’re going to put into a [production car]? Not yet.

“In the meantime, it’s the development of the electrochemistry; pulling as much power out as possible but maintaining stability.

“Makers of eight-one-one batteries are now putting a bit of silicon in to make it a bit safer so that you can draw a bit more power and energy. I think in the medium term, that’s as far as it goes.”

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