The UK-based technology and manufacturing firm is incorporated in Canada, has a Montreal office and tells Electric Autonomy in an exclusive interview that it is close to securing premises in Quebec for its second gigafactory to serve the North American EV industry and plans to expand into cathodes and R&D
In the heart of Montreal’s downtown core at 1 Place Ville Marie — one of the tallest buildings in the city — is the address of Britishvolt Canada Inc.’s headquarters.
Technically, Britishvolt’s Canadian seat doubles as Denton’s senior business advisor Philippe Couillard’s office. But that makes sense as Couillard, along with a small but growing team, is largely responsible for bringing the British technology and manufacturing company to Canada — and which this week revealed to Electric Autonomy Canada in an exclusive interview its plan to build a 60GWh battery cell gigafactory, an R&D centre, and anode and cathode processing set up in Quebec.
“I got in touch with Britishvolt when the government of Quebec issued their international request for interest to set up a battery ecosystem in Quebec and called for companies all around the world who were interested in being part of that,” says Couillard, former premier of Quebec from 2014 to 2018, in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
“Through this, Britishvolt came as an interested party.”
Britishvolt’s disclosure is the second announcement of a battery cell factory coming to Quebec made this week. At the 2021 Electric Mobility Canada conference, Ontario-based Stromvolt (no affiliation with Britishvolt) said it, too, is actively seeking premises, government funding and partnerships to build out a 10GWh lithium-ion battery cell factory.
If one or both of the projects come to fruition, Quebec will have a nearly complete EV battery supply chain within the province — although Britishvolt, at least, says it intends to serve OEMs outside the province, too.
What is Britishvolt?
While not a household name in Canada, Britishvolt has demonstrated a meteoric rise in activity and results in the United Kingdom with a goal to “repatriate the supply chain to the UK,” says Couillard.
At its core, Britishvolt is a clean technology and manufacturing company, founded in 2019 by Orral Nadjari, a financial investor formerly in the Middle East. The company is headquartered in the West Midlands (considered the centre of the British auto industry) and is currently constructing a 30GWh battery plant in Northumberland — the first large-scale battery plant for electric vehicles in the UK.
“Britishvolt is an innovative tech company, which basically was born out of the fantastic UK ecosystem and lithium-ion battery,” says Couillard. “The company was formed out of this ecosystem with the desire to repatriate the supply chain to the UK and surrounding European countries.”
Couillard highlights Britishvolt’s vast braintrust, whose expertise spans manufacturing to financial investments, and has been putting a heavy emphasis on building the company’s brand around an environmental, social and governance (ESG) philosophy.
“Britishvolt does its own financing, fundraising and development. The same method will be used in Canada: we will own the site and we will own the factory. And, of course, we will have significant partnerships in the region in the country,” explains Couillard. “The luck we have with Britishvolt Canada is that we can count on the team at the head office that has significant expertise that we don’t need to duplicate here.”
In early 2021, Britishvolt Canada, subsidiary of Britishvolt PLC, set up an office in Montreal and registered lobbyists with the Quebec government and at the federal level. The aim of lobbying efforts, public records show, are “Obtaining financial support from the federal government for the construction of a battery manufacturing plant in Canada.”
“Britishvolt’s ambition has always been net zero. The core component of this mission is to really help assist the race to lower the carbon footprint. How do we do that? Basically, by creating an ecosystem,” says Anna Vujovic, head of business development in North America for Britishvolt in an interview with Electric Autonomy.
“Our initiative from day one was to build this gigafactory in Quebec and manufacture these battery cells in Quebec. [Then] also build a corridor between Quebec and Ontario and have these battery cells assembled in Ontario because we have an easy access to local OEMs. Both provinces are collaborating, working strongly towards this, this mission and with the support of the federal government.”
Quebec lobbyist registry documents from 2021 specify Britishvolt Canada is “seeking to produce Lithium-ion battery cells” and is pursuing funding to help finance construction of a battery manufacturing plant in the province. Records show the premises has not yet been secured, but the Britishvolt Canada team tells Electric Autonomy it’s getting close.
While not able to give specifics at this time, the company says it is evaluating a “strategic location” for the factory and R&D centre in Quebec with access to critical infrastructure and industry support. Britishvolt says the facility will be powered by hydroelectricity and will be state-of-the-art with a low-carbon footprint and minimal non-recyclable waste for an operation that represents “manufacturing of the future” and is in line with its ESG standards.
“We have a strong interest in that site — it’s quite an ideal location,” says Couillard. The site will give Britishvolt proximity to: a deepwater port, railway connections to the North American network (providing an option for lower-carbon transportation) and renewable energy sources.
Britishvolt says it isn’t ready to disclose who has been awarded the contract to design and build the Canada factory, but there is a main engineering consultant and costing consultant already hired and the company “will be leveraging the UK project managing team.”
Pininfarina Architecture is responsible for designing Britishvolt’s UK gigafactory and UK engineering and building firm, NG Bailey, is the constructor. Finally, Ridge and Partners is the site’s project management of the architecture.
And as for securing a supply of rare or critical battery minerals, Britishvolt is spoiled for choice. From its Quebec vantage point it is able to tap into the heart of Canada’s robust mining industry. And, in August, Britishvolt announced that Glencore PLC acquired a stake in the company as part of a strategic partnership that would see the mining giant supply Britishvolt’s battery factory with cobalt. In October, Britishvolt announced it joined the Fair Cobalt Alliance in order to bring “responsible, fair and transparent” activity to cobalt sourced from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“BV believes that it’s the responsibility of the entire battery industry, including manufacturers, to ensure that everyone involved is treated with respect and given the right opportunities,” said Craig Woodburn, head of ESG at Britishvolt in a press release about the news.
Britishvolt moving quickly
With its keen interest reciprocated by the Canadian government, Britishvolt has spent the last eight months putting the pieces of its plan in play. It registered as a Canadian corporation in February, then began identifying and vetting potential sites for its facilities across Quebec, while lobbying the provincial and federal governments for funding support through the summer.
The model being deployed in Canada follows the trajectory and path of Britishvolt’s UK activities. It’s a formula that worked well the first time for Britishvolt and one it believes it can export to other jurisdictions starting with Quebec. The company is also interested in more than just making cells here.
“We want to be as vertically integrated as we can, and also include the cathode and anode manufacturing in the business model,” says Couillard. “We’ve got all the raw materials necessary here in the country, but there’s the link between the raw material and the battery material that needs to be developed. We are going in exactly that direction. Our intention is to, as much as possible, integrate cathode and anode manufacturing, in the process of what we’re doing.”
Owning the technology end-to-end — from R&D down to the physical cell itself — is, Britishvolt Canada feels, the critical element of its strategy.
“Something that happens often in the technology world and building here in Canada, we have this syndrome of having the raw materials and not commercializing our discoveries. We cannot only export raw minerals, we need to participate in the added value of the supply chain so that’s what we’re going to do in Canada,” says Couillard.
“As an economist and, I would also say, coming back to the geopolitical angle of this, you want to bring this supply chain back to the countries in Europe and North America — Canada, obviously. We are methodical people, we go step-by-step, and we make sure that we can go to the next step only when the previous one has been completed. So that’s what we’re doing now and I think we can see that things are progressing well.”