How the Giga factory is just the start of the Green Revolution in North East England

How the Giga factory is just the start of the Green Revolution in North East England

by | Oct 29, 2021

How the Giga factory is just the start of the Green Revolution in North East England

The decision by Nissan to locate the first ever mass produced Electric Vehicle (EV) in Europe in Sunderland along with the associated battery plant was a milestone, as was rolling out one of the first EV charging infrastructures in Europe in the region. But we are now moving up a gear.

Events such as Britishvolt’s ground-breaking ceremony, Nissan’s announcements and the activities of the Offshore Renewables Energy Catapult are creating the North East ‘Power Plant’. The region is now central to two key pillars of Net Zero – namely power generation and energy storage. The history of the region has always included power generation. However, it was not clean.

Manufacturing and transport need clean energy to operate and are interdependent. They also must be profitable. The UK challenge is to install enough power generation to support the replacement and operation of 39 million internal combustion vehicles and to remove fossil fuels from power generation at the same time.

It is also an ambition to build a whole new supply chain and attract inward investment to make the UK sustainable in terms of supply and intellectual property. This is the biggest task since the industrial revolution and is, in fact, creating a new industrial revolution. This new revolution is based on data, behaviours, and research.

The biggest challenge

We are on the Net-Zero journey and climate change is a race we must win. But as in all races, to win needs effort, ability and desire, which we believe history has shown is embedded in the region

Reversing the industrial revolution, which is what we are trying to do but without destroying the existing automotive economy, will take time and care. But in the North East we are already, with both our existing assets and those declared in terms of the new battery Giga plants, up and ready for the challenge. It is a whole new ecosystem to achieve Net-Zero activity involving new skills, new research, new methods and new attitudes.

To do what we think is adequate might achieve a goal or policy, however we must go beyond that and be the best we can. Just making electric vehicles is not enough – we have to de-carbonise the whole supply chain.

The North East has the expertise and assets that will allow it to seize the opportunities of this transition to a green economy, to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth.  However, the current assets are about to get very large and the number of people required to operate them runs into thousands. People are required at all levels of ability ranging from NVQ and equivalent to further levels of higher education (L2 to L8) and many simply do not understand the new technology. We have to enthuse children about the possibilities of STEM, retrain individuals and attract new people.

What is the region doing about it?

“Out of intense complexities, intense simplicities emerge.”

This is where our universities come into play by solving complex problems. We are doing this by bringing together research and resources into the North East Battery Alliance and Driving the Electric Revolution. A great example of thinking differently is exploring using old mine workings as a thermal battery to capture heat from the battery manufacturing process, then heating other premises.

Newcastle University along with Northumbria and Durham universities have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with British Volt who are constructing a Gigaplant at Blyth in Northumberland to produce lithium-ion batteries. The agreement sees the universities providing support in education and R&D to enhance innovation. Newcastle University is working with the North East Battery Alliance, other local and national universities, the region’s training providers as well as government both local and national, to create a fully joined up delivery plan. The region is working with the Faraday Institution and has opened its first regional office.

Our vision is that any child or adult will be able to access an education route to fulfil their dreams and aspirations without having to leave the region as so many have done in the past. In fact, our region wants to attract people with ambition to build together the new industrial revolution.

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  • Newcastle University,
  • King's Gate,
  • Newcastle upon Tyne,
  • NE1 7RU,
  • UK.
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