Northern France Home To New Gigafactories
The region, once known for its industrial might, is getting a new lease on life thanks to battery manufacturing investments.
France was once the cradle of automotive technology. In the late 1800s into the early 1900s, manufacturers like Renault, Peugeot, Darracq, and De Dion-Bouton were innovators that produced some of Europe’s most advanced automobiles of the time. Now, the country is undergoing a resurgence as the Hauts-de-France region in Northern France is becoming a hotbed for lithium-ion battery manufacturing.
Battery cell production facility. Image used courtesy of Automotive Cells Company
China Comes to France
In 2021, Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC), formerly a Nissan subsidiary that built batteries for the Nissan Leaf and was acquired in 2018 by China’s Envision, announced a 2 billion euro ($2.2 billion) battery cell production site would be built in Douai next to the Renault Group factory. The French government is investing an additional 200 million euros in the project.
The gigafactory, expected to open in 2024, will be primarily batteries for electric vehicles (EVs) produced by the Renault Group. By 2030, the AESC gigafactory in Douai is expected to reach an annual production capacity of 24 gigawatt-hours (GWh).
Automotive Cells Company (ACC) was founded in August 2020 as a tie-up between Stellantis, TotalEnergies (through its Saft battery company), and Mercedes-Benz to build batteries for future EVs. ACC has chosen the town of Billy-Berclau in France, not far from the Belgian border, to build its gigafactory, with 24 GWh planned initially, expanding to 40 GWh by 2030.
Another battery maker, French industrial company Verkor, in 2022 selected the port city of Dunkirk, also in the Hauts de France region, for the construction of its first gigafactory. Verkor says its manufacturing capacity will begin with 16 GWh in 2025 and expand to 50 GWh by 2030.
Taiwan is Next
Recently, Taiwanese battery maker ProLogium announced it would join the move to Northern France by building its first battery manufacturing site outside Taiwan in Dunkirk. The 5.2-billion-euro ($5.7 billion U.S.) facility will specialize in R&D and manufacturing of next-generation solid-state lithium batteries.
ProLogium was founded in 2006 and has developed a solid-state battery that has been produced on a large scale on its pilot production line in Taiwan since 2017. Solid-state lithium batteries are often considered the next step in building better and safer EVs. Unlike current commercial lithium-ion batteries that use flammable liquid electrolyte materials, ProLogium uses a robust ceramic separator and an inflammable solid-state electrolyte. The solid-state electrolyte allows for highly active cathode and anode materials, enabling higher energy density for a longer EV range and faster recharge times with greater safety.
The ProLogium facility in Dunkirk will include a research and development facility for the solid-state technology and a battery gigafactory that will eventually produce 48 GWh of the next-generation batteries per year. ProLogium will also work toward its “original-phase recycling” technology, a recycling process to return a higher proportion of solid-state electrolytes from spent batteries with lower energy consumption. The ProLogium plant in Dunkirk will also use green electricity for its manufacturing processes to further reduce the carbon footprint of the new batteries.
The Region Reborn
The north of France, and the Hauts de France region, in particular, has long been one of the country's industrial powerhouses. For over a century, it has been a key source of textiles, coal, steel, and automobile manufacturing. Although steel and mining dried up decades ago, the region remains home to the manufacturing sites of seven car companies, including Renault, Stellantis, and Toyota, and a wide range of automotive suppliers. This, along with the deep-sea port of Dunkirk, has made the region one of the most attractive locations in Europe to place battery gigafactories.