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Gigafactory in Dunkirk: an ideal location for Verkor’s ambition

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February 28, 2022

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Gigafactory

Verkor was born of a shared ambition to develop the mobility of tomorrow with a strong conviction that Europe has the key assets to meet the challenge. To achieve its goal, Verkor will build the world’s most modern and efficient Gigafactory by 2024, with a production capacity of 16 GWh of lithium-ion cells per year, which will equip 300,000 electric vehicles and directly create 1,200 jobs.

The choice of the Gigafactory site was a real challenge for Verkor. Sylvain Paineau (Co-founder and Director of Strategy and Partnerships) and Olivier Dufour (Co-founder and Stakeholder Engagement) look back at the challenges and all the steps that led to the choice of Dunkirk, a strategic location for the Gigafactory.

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First challenge: studying potential Gigafactory locations

What were the key criteria when choosing the location?

 

SP: Two key steps led to us choosing this location. The first was when Verkor was founded in July 2020 and the project to build its Gigafactory was conceived, and the second was when our partners were brought in, particularly Renault.

OD: We had drawn up an initial specification to select the best location for the Verkor Gigafactory:

  • A very large site with 200 hectares of space
  • Optimal logistical connections: rail networks, proximity to highways, etc.
  • A location with the potential to have enough electrical power
  • An attractive job pool that will enable us to hire a large, qualified workforce
  • The ability to obtain a building permit in a timely manner in order to meet the Gigafactory construction deadlines

SP: With the arrival of Renault (in June 2021), Verkor’s partner and customer, the specifications were shared and optimised, now that we had more detailed knowledge of our needs and schedule:

  • A 50-to-60-hectare site
  • Electrical connectivity compatible with our needs and production schedule
  • Geographical proximity to customers
  • A “turnkey” site that would save time, particularly in terms of all the environmental studies

In the first phase, to help Verkor select the ideal site, a standard plant plan was drawn up by the IDEC Group:

Plan gigafactory

 

How many potential sites did you study?

 

OD: We studied some 40 potential sites in Europe for the Verkor Gigafactory. We analysed and studied location options outside of France, in Italy and Spain, where we explored about ten sites.

In France, we identified potential locations throughout the country in 12 of the 13 French regions.

 

Why set up in France?

 

OD: Starting in December 2020, we focused our search on France for several reasons, in particular to benefit from France’s decarbonised energy mix.

Energy mix

SP: We were aware that there would be some distance between the VIC, Verkor’s innovation, training and pilot line centre and headquarters which will open in Grenoble this year, and the Gigafactory, and we didn’t want to make that distance any longer by locating the plant outside France, which would complicate its construction. Moreover, we have a large network in France with many customers and partners and therefore a strong link with this French ecosystem.

Why Dunkirk?

SP: The selection was the result of joint work with the Renault teams and our other partners, based on an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the various sites, along with economic, supply chain and logistics aspects, technical feasibility, planning impacts, ecosystems and finally the employment pool. These analyses led us to a short-list of half a dozen potential locations, later narrowed to the three that were submitted to the CNDP in December 2021.

The final choice was the Dunkirk site, which met the most criteria, particularly in terms of technical aspects, since the schedule was very restrictive. The two other pre-selected sites in the Seine Maritime and Indre departments had excellent characteristics but also some specific technical issues.

 

The advantages of Dunkirk

 

OD: Dunkirk is a strategic location for Verkor and has other advantages that were not part of the initial selection criteria. Its location gives Verkor new opportunities with maritime access and an independent site with very large areas that will allow the Gigafactory to expand and thus reach, and potentially exceed, the target of 50 GWh in 2030.

 

Creating a “Battery Valley” in Northern France

 

SP: The choice of Dunkirk for Verkor is part of the desire to form a battery cluster in Northern France.

OD: As recommended in Philippe Varin’s January 2022 report, it is important to set up two industrial platforms, one in Dunkirk to bring together the players in the electric battery sector, and the other in Lacq for the permanent magnet sector. 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.

 

How local and national initiatives impacted the choice of the site

 

SP: National initiatives such as the Choose France programme will help maintain or create French jobs, make France more attractive to foreign investment, and accelerate administrative procedures for all economic players.

Choose France EN

OD: Various local initiatives that promote the preparation of land, and give the opportunity to industrial firms to build on it, were factors that played a role in our final choice. In some parts of the country, the “French millefeuille” is strongly felt: a series of administrative layers that pile on burdens from the municipal level all the way up to regional one. For us it was important to have a simple, efficient organisation.

 

How did the Urban Community of Dunkirk contribute to the Verkor project?

 

Rafael Ponce (Deputy Managing Director of the Urban Community of Dunkirk): “Work is always done in concert in the area of Dunkirk; there is consultation and mobilisation between the communities and all the stakeholders. We want to facilitate Verkor’s arrival in this area by offering them a one-stop shop: the Grand Port of Dunkirk and the urban community. Dunkirk welcomes and supports Verkor in securing the necessary permits and in setting up the plant, along with its training and employment needs.

Dunkirk is also a place with a strong industrial culture that is used to hosting companies, as well as a place that several years ago made a choice to anticipate the industrial transformation so that it also meets the challenges of the environmental transition.

This project is also a human adventure, and I would like to pay tribute to the quality of the relationship between our respective teams. We have succeeded in working in a climate of partnership and trust throughout the project. When you start a long-term relationship, this dynamic is essential.”

 

The next steps will be crucial to overcome the challenges ahead

 

SP: We have passed the first stage and selected Dunkirk as the location for our Gigafactory. Verkor, with the support of its partners, is facing new challenges until the first stone is laid. Indeed, Verkor will launch the administrative procedures for the construction and at the same time, finalise its fundraising (public/private).

OD: The Gigafactory project will create 1,200 direct jobs by 2025. Hiring staff for the Gigafactory is a future step. We will be launching a large recruitment drive at the beginning of 2023. Job-seekers can already express their interest at: jobs.dunkerque@verkor.com The Gigafactory will also generate 2,000 local jobs during the construction phase of the plant.

 

 

In its selection process for the Gigafactory, Verkor was supported and assisted by its partners such as Renault for the choice of location, but also by the IDEC Group and EKIUM for the technical aspects.

Verkor, with the help of its partners, has chosen Dunkirk; an ideal strategic site on which to build its Gigafactory. “This is the site that will allow Verkor to create a “Decarbonised Verkor Campus”, where there is room not just for the Verkor plant but also to host our partners” – Sylvain Paineau.

 

 

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