Mining giant Glencore has agreed to buy a stake in Britishvolt, the startup with plans to invest £4bn building the UK’s first large-scale battery factory to help accelerate the rollout of electric vehicles.
Glencore said it had made an undisclosed investment in the company as part of a long-term strategic partnership with Britishvolt to supply cobalt to its pioneering battery “gigafactory” in Northumberland.
Glencore is one of the world’s biggest producers of cobalt, a byproduct of its copper mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and its nickel mining in Australia and Canada. It is also a key material used in manufacturing the batteries found in electric vehicles.
Britishvolt chief executive, Orral Nadjari, who founded the company in 2019, said the partnership was “a huge step in the right direction” which would help to lock in its supply of cobalt and lower the risks for the multibillion pound project.
The former investment banker has already won backing from investors in the Middle East and Scandinavia but Glencore is the first major strategic investor to take a stake in the company.
Britishvolt’s battery factory is under construction on the site of a decommissioned coal-fired power plant in Blyth in north-east England where it will initially employ 1,000 people, rising to 3,000 once the gigafactory is at full capacity.
Once complete Britishvolt expects the plant to produce enough battery cells for about 300,000 electric vehicle battery packs a year, which will mainly supply the UK’s automotive industry.
David Brocas, Glencore’s head cobalt trader, said the miner’s commitment to supporting Britishvolt was key to underpinning the long-term cobalt supply deal.
“As the mobility and energy transition accelerates, so does future demand for battery metals such as cobalt, copper and nickel. Glencore is already a leading producer and supplier of these metals, helping to underpin our ambition of achieving net zero total emissions by 2050,” he said.
The deal is likely to reignite concerns over the ethical procurement of cobalt to meet the world’s rising demand for electric vehicles, and Glencore’s activities in the DRC.
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Glencore is under investigation by authorities in the UK, US and Switzerland, where the company is based, over alleged corruption. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office in late 2019 opened an investigation into Glencore relating to “suspicions of bribery in the conduct of business”. The company also faces a criminal investigation by the Swiss government over its alleged failure to prevent corruption in the DRC.
Nadjari said: “Knowing that we are being supplied with ethically produced, low-carbon cobalt is a signal to the market that we are living by our values.
“This strategic partnership aligns perfectly with our world-class ESG [environmental, social, and governance] principles, including applying best practice wherever possible as well as assessing labour, human rights and ethical procurement performance of our suppliers.”