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INTERVIEW: AMTE Power planning 2 GWh UK gigafactory: CEO

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Plant will manufacture lithium ion and sodium ion battery cells

Three possible sites chosen, concept design done

London — AMTE Power is planning to build a gigafactory of 2 GWh in the UK that will be able to manufacture lithium-ion battery cells and its proprietary sodium-ion battery cells for specialist markets, as well as the electric-vehicle and battery-storage spaces.

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CEO Kevin Brundish told S&P Global Platts in an interview the company had carried out an initial study in which it had chosen three possible locations — in Northeast England, Scotland and Wales — as well as the concept design, which needed to be scaled up and finalized.

The concept design was based on the company's existing production knowledge, as it already has a battery production facility in Scotland that manufactures sodium ion and lithium ion cells, Brundish said.

"We have done layouts of where that equipment would sit in one of those locations. We did not do all three, but it was enough for us to understand what we needed in space and what components would look like. We have done a walk-through of that design, so we have gone a reasonable way," Brundish said.

AMTE Power — co-founded in 2013 by Brundish and several former colleagues from UK defense technology company QinetiQ — listed on the London Stock Exchange's AIM Market in March.

It received government support through a grant to fund some of the feasibility work, but it also invested up to GBP350,000 ($480,000) of its own cash on the design work, which included an integrated design that included power requirements and all other elements.

"We are in a very strong position to accelerate quickly as we see that demand pick up, and that is the key," Brundish said. "We need to have got ourselves to a certain position of readiness. We are looking to secure that demand and then we can drive forward and build out against that."

AMTE Power expected to make the decision to proceed with the gigafactory within the next 12-18 months, with the build expected to take 12-24 months.

"We cannot predict how easy the supply chain will be at that point in time and what the lead time will be on equipment," Brundish said.

While the company was focused on 2-3 GWh capacity, which would meet its specialist market interest, it will place a cap on the capacity.

"If you look at the UK, there are things like Brexit dynamics that are driving source of origin on our ability to export tariff-free into Europe, there are some interesting pieces talking about a six-year window for us to create a battery supply chain," Brundish said.

"Otherwise we are going to have to import and then re-export through Europe, which is obviously not ideal, so there is quite an open space there and a need. So, we tend not to say there is a cap, but our focus is on that starting point."

Brundish did not rule out participating in gigafactory plans outside the UK, noting that AMTE Power had signed a number of memorandum of understandings with companies internationally, including Australia's InfraNomics. The focus would remain on the UK, he said.

Demand-supply mismatch

Brundish pointed out that, according to Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders data, 10.7% of vehicles sold in the UK in 2020 were EVs, saying that gave the sense the public conversion was starting to gain momentum, boosting demand.

Whether there would be enough battery demand to meet supply, he said the size of the mismatch between the two depended on whether it was looked at from a globalized or localized view.

"It is the localized figures that we are focused on in the UK. If you look at the potential demand and potential supply, there is a mismatch. If you expand that out to Europe, I think that mismatch is less," he said.

Brundish noted that existing infrastructure in Asia was also being expanded, while in the US, there was Tesla with its "big plans and big factories. So, the numbers look like they are moving in the right direction, but there is probably still a mismatch."

Due to the growing demand, Brundish said security of supply was crucial.

"Our view is that is why we have to focus on the UK, as we think there is a reasonable space for us to expand into that," he added.

Brundish said it was important to have the supply chain close to the vehicle manufacturing for a number of reasons, one being trade tariffs. He also cited the cost base, shipping times and logistic issues.

"In the UK, there have been a number of steps: the 2008 crash started to get people to recognize that there are some challenges with the global supply chain and the just-in-time approach. There is also Brexit, that puts other pressures on and that has been crystallized more recently as the trade agreements become clear, and [then] you have the pandemic.

"All of these things have put strains on — and that was before the Suez Canal block — which was a very short-term thing. But you can see how that just-in-time global supply chain has some fragility, even though it has been more robust since 2008," Brundish said.