Electric cars: France to open its first battery factory to ensure its independence from China

The very first French factory of batteries for electric cars is about to open its doors on Tuesday near Lens, a major industrial event for France, which wants to guarantee its independence from the Chinese giant and even become an exporter by the end of the decade.

This is one of Emmanuel Macron’s fortes: reindustrialization will go through the production of batteries on French and European territory, while China has assumed a considerable leading role in this sector. ACC (Automotive Cell Company), a joint venture between TotalEnergies, Stellantis (born from the merger of PSA and Fiat-Chrysler) and Mercedes-Benz, is therefore the first to open its “gigafactory” in France.

Currently only a few are active in Europe, but investments are multiplying in the Old Continent where around fifty projects have been announced in recent years. In northern France, an emblematic territory of the country’s deindustrialization, four factories must emerge from the ground before the end of the decade.

The first, the ACC of Billy-Berclau, which borders the historic PSA site of Douvrin, should be followed by the project of the Sino-Japanese group AESC-Envision of Douai (North), the production of which will be destined from the outset to Renault. 2025. The Grenoble start-up Verkor – supported by Renault, Schneider Electric and Arkema – plans to start production at the Dunkirk plant from mid-2025, again for the Renault group. Finally, ProLogium, a Taiwanese group specializing in so-called “solid” batteries, announced in mid-May that it would also take office in Dunkirk, with production starting at the end of 2026.

20,000 jobs

In Billy-Berclau, production is scheduled to begin this summer, and ACC is targeting 13 GWh of annual capacity by the end of 2024 with 600 jobs at stake. From 2030, the goal is to employ 2,000 employees to produce 40 GWh, or the equivalent of 800,000 batteries a year, 500,000 according to Bercy.

In the “Battery Valley”, as politicians and industrialists have nicknamed this territory that goes from Dunkirk to the former mining basin, this new industrial sector should lead to the creation of more than 20,000 jobs.

The declared ambition is great, but the accompanying challenges are equally great. France aims to be self-sufficient in battery production by 2027 to supply its auto industry. As in the other countries of the European Union, from 2035 the sale of new thermal vehicles will be prohibited.

The goal is even to be able to export, according to the Elysium. But France, even if it is better off than some of its European partners, remains disadvantaged by the price of its energy, compared to China or the United States which massively subsidize this industry thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) .


Another major challenge is the supply of critical metals. Lithium-ion batteries are very fond of nickel, cobalt or manganese, whose production chain, from extraction to refining, is now largely controlled by China.

There are ways to design batteries without these materials — solid batteries, lithium-sulfur batteries — but these technologies are still only experimental. At Billy-Berclau, ACC is expected to evolve its technology from lithium-ion batteries to next-generation solid-state batteries.

The company, which has invested 7 billion euros and is planning a plant in Germany and another site in Italy, has received 1.3 billion in French and German public aid. The four French “gigafactories” (very large factories) are expected to pave the way for an ecosystem that attracts suppliers of battery materials and components, as well as recycling sites.

On May 12, Macron thus announced the establishment in Dunkirk of a cathode production site – one of the two electrodes that make up a battery – financed by the Chinese XTC and the French Orano.

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