Macron cuts ribbon on first battery mega-project

French President Emmanuel Macron attended on 30 January the ground-breaking ceremony for a new battery factory in southwest France: the first real result of an EU-led policy aimed at boosting the industry and helping it withstand global competitors.

Battery production is big business in Western Europe, which is gearing up for a large-scale transport switch from combustion engines to electric power. That is why France and Germany joined forces in order to compete against Southeast Asia’s market leaders.

The pilot plant, located in Nersac, is due to start production in mid-2021 as part of cross-border co-operation encouraged by the EU’s Battery Alliance. “It is a European ambition, an industrial ambition, which is also climate-focused,” Macron said at the factory’s launch, dubbing the efforts “the Airbus of electric batteries”. 

Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said at the same ceremony that the pilot plant would eventually employ 200 people and that another planned factory in Douvrin, northern France, would need 2,000 workers as of 2022.

Germany will also open a plant in 2024 that will employ the same amount of people.

Le Maire added that the plans “prove that Europe is capable of building its technological and therefore political sovereignty in the face of China and the United States”.

The Franco-German industrial boost is backed by the European Commission, which in late 2019 signed off on a so-called Important Project of Common European Interest (IPCEI). It means that the most stringent EU state aid rules will not apply to approved schemes.

Seven EU countries, including France, Germany and Sweden have a total of €3.2bn in subsidies to play with, while another IPCEI reportedly involving more countries is still awaiting approval.

Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič tweeted that “the European Battery Alliance is bearing fruit, thanks to our French and German partners. European production based on innovation with thousands of jobs at stake.”

The pilot plant launch also saw French energy giant Total, which owns the firm that will run the Nersac factory, team up with the PSA Groupe. The joint venture aims to produce one million electric vehicle batteries by 2030. “That will be around 10 to 15% of the market and will require €5bn in investments. It is an important bet,” said Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne. PSA-subsidiary Opel will benefit from the German battery plant. More than €1bn investment will come from the €3.2bn that was approved by the Commission in December.