Meet the people leading the charge for an electrified supply chain

In the latest instalment of our virtual webinar series, last week we hosted a lively discussion with a panel of leading figures from the UK automotive industry who are helping to visualise the future of the automotive supply chain.

Hosted by Jacqui Murray, Deputy Director at Faraday Battery Challenge, the panel brought together experts from across the electrification ecosystem to show how collaboration and agility will be key to the future of the UK’s automotive industry.  With succinct, seven minute presentations followed by a lively and informative Q&A session, our panel consisted of Will Drury, Challenge Director at Driving the Electric Revolution, Isobel Sheldon OBE, Chief Strategy Officer at BritishVolt, Anna Ritchley, Head of External Affairs at the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre and our very own Automotive Transformation Director, Julian Hetherington.

At the heart of all the panellists’ presentations was the fact that the UK has a strong history of automotive innovation, which will be key to the success of our transition to a net-zero future. The UK automotive industry has an annual turnover of £82 billion and employs over 800,000 people giving us a rich pool of existing talent who can be upskilled to design and deliver the components and systems that are needed. Add to this a strong existing chemical supply chain and we are already well on our way.

Isobel Sheldon OBE offered up one key example of how the UK will be able to re-imagine existing processes in a cleaner and greener way: graphitisation. An essential stage in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, it frequently requires North Sea needle coke to be shipped around the world to China, where processing often occurs in less than ideal environmental conditions, before it is then shipped back to the UK. By repatriating this process back, we can significantly reduce embedded carbon and ensure long-term supply chain sustainability.

With a blank sheet of paper to work from when it comes to developing the manufacturing processes for electrification Anna Ritchley turned our attention to the work done by the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre (UKBIC). A 20,000 m² facility on the outskirts of Coventry, UKBIC is a production-realistic setting able to run at the same capacity and speed of those in existing mass production facilities. This means organisations are able to test, and therefore de-risk, their processes before investing at scale. An open-access facility, it is not just available to existing large-scale companies; SMEs can also use the centre to grow skills, test capacity and ensure confidence and familiarity with their processes as they look to develop their business.

The importance of SMEs to the ecosystem of the automotive supply chain and ensuring an environment where they can grow and flourish was a key point made by Will Drury and Julian Hetherington. Both emphasised that strategic and collaborative partnerships between industry, research and UK government have resulted in significant financial investment in SMEs who are now meeting the rising demand for skills and technology.

As the ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles looms ever nearer, the automotive industry is facing its biggest challenge in over 100 years; requiring not only technological innovation but also a total overhaul of the existing industrial architecture for vehicle production. However, one thing could not be clearer, our panellists represent a group of extremely passionate people and organisations who are working collaboratively and at pace to deliver a scalable and sustainable electric supply chain – and from them the message is simple: we must, and we will ‘Do it better, do it cleaner, do it greener’.