17 Verkor EV Gigafactory
For meeting the soaring demand for electric vehicle batteries while jumpstarting French industry
The electric vehicle (EV) market in Europe is moving into the fast lane. Consumers there snapped up 2.3 million EVs last year, a volume second only to China’s. Sustaining that demand are both soaring fuel prices and new regulations to support the European Union’s 2050 ambitions to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. But affordable EV production hinges on a robust supply chain—including manufacturing enough batteries for all those vehicles.
French industrial startup Verkor is stepping up to meet the challenge. In February, it revealed plans to build its first “gigafactory,” a 150-hectare (371-acre) facility tricked out with production capacity to equip 300,000 vehicles with batteries annually. It’s a massively ambitious project for a company that just turned two years old in July. But Europe’s fast-moving EV market is ripe for bold moves: Annual capacity for EV lithium-ion batteries across Europe is expected to grow sixfold by 2030—sparking a so-called “battery arms race,” according to a 2022 report by research firm Benchmark Minerals.
At the same time, government leaders in France see the growth as an opportunity to recharge the country’s sagging manufacturing sector. “With the automotive industry facing unprecedented challenges, the investments we make today will turn into tomorrow’s jobs,” said French Minister of Energy Transition Agnès Pannier-Runacher in signing on as a Verkor project partner in 2021. “Our goal is to accelerate the development of innovative digital processes for battery cell manufacturing.”
“Building a ‘Battery Valley’ will allow us to pool our efforts, resources and skills, particularly in the area of training for this industry, which will need thousands of jobs filled,” says Olivier Dufour, cofounder and director of stakeholder engagement at Verkor.
Project leaders considered roughly 40 potential sites spanning France, Italy and Spain, looking at “economic, supply chain and logistics aspects, technical feasibility, planning impacts, ecosystems and finally the employment pool,” says Sylvain Paineau, Verkor’s cofounder and director of strategy and partnerships. One factor that tipped the scales in favor of the company’s home country? The government’s Choose France program that aims to encourage investments in part by accelerating administrative procedures. Even so, there were concerns. “In some parts of the country, the ‘French mille-feuille’ is strongly felt: a series of administrative layers that pile on burdens from the municipal level all the way up to the regional one,” Dufour says.
The company zeroed in on Dunkirk for its strong industrial culture and maritime access. Plus, its relatively low density also makes expansion plans easier once the factory meets its production target of 50 gigawatts in 2030, says Paineau.
The €1.6 billion project is funded by a broad consortium of stakeholders, including Renault Group, energy think tank EIT InnoEnergy, real estate developer Groupe IDEC, automation specialists Schneider Electric and the French government.
Construction is scheduled to start in 2023, with the project completed in 2024. The company aims to produce 16 gigawatts of battery energy in 2025, with production targets rising incrementally over five years. The project is also expected to deliver on positive social impact, slated to generate up to 1,200 direct jobs and more than 3,000 indirect jobs during its first phase.