Prof. Colin Herron

Growth of the North East as a Hub for Battery Technology

The latest blog from Invest North East England by Professor Colin Herron.

Prof. Colin Herron has over 48 years automotive industry experience including 16 years with Nissan in Sunderland. Currently, he is Head of the Faraday Institution Office North East (FINE) and the North East Battery Alliance (NEBA).  

He works closely with the car and battery industry, government bodies and professional institutions to translate future technology into an adoption strategy.


The Nissan Leaf was the catalyst in North East England

The decision by Nissan to locate the first ever mass-produced Electric Vehicle (EV) facility in Europe, into Sunderland along with the associated battery plant in 2013 was a milestone, as was rolling out one of the first EV charging infrastructures in Europe into the region. But we are now moving up a gear.

Events such as Britishvolt’ s new gigaplant in Northumberland, Nissans’ announcements with AESC Envision to create EV360, are a catalyst, and has seen the formation of the North East Battery Alliance (NEBA).  The region is now central to two key pillars of Net Zero namely power generation through offshore wind and energy storage and the only regional office of the Faraday Institution. The Faraday Institution is the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research, skills development, market analysis, and early-stage commercialisation.

It is our ambition at the Faraday Institution, to build a whole new supply chain and attract inward investment to make the UK sustainable in terms of supply and intellectual property. This is the biggest task since the industrial revolution and is in fact creating a new industrial revolution. This new revolution is based on data, behaviours, and research.

What makes the North East unique?

The region has key assets such as the UK’s first gigaplant, clean power, deep water ports, a very large chemicals sector, and a history of manufacturing excellence. Due to some of the legacies of the first industrial revolution the region is now in a position where we are exploring lithium extraction in old mining areas, processing of lithium has been announced on Teesside, cell manufacture at two gigaplants, battery assembly in other plants, EV manufacture in the UK’s largest car plant, second life battery storage producer. All of this in an area with the best combined research power outside of London, we believe is unique.

Prof. Colin Herron
Prof. Colin Herron

The biggest challenge

The North East has the expertise and assets that will allow it to seize opportunities of this transition to a green economy, to deliver sustainable and inclusive growth.  However, the current assets are about to get very large and the number of people required to operate them runs into thousands. The people are required at all levels of ability and many simply do not understand the new technology. We have to engage and excite children, retrain individuals, and attract new people.

Any child or adult will be able to access an education route to fulfil their dreams and aspirations without having to leave the region as so many have done in the past. In fact, the region wants to attract people with ambition.

 What is the region doing about it?

Our five universities come into play by solving complex problems, by bringing together research and resources into the NEBA and Driving the Electric Revolution. A great example of thinking differently is exploring using old mine workings as a thermal battery to capture heat from the battery manufacturing process, then heating other premises.

The region is part of the UK electrification skills framework developing and delivering new courses.

The NEBA is working with the Faraday Institution, universities, the region’s training providers as well as government both local and national to create a fully joined up delivery plan. In May this year we saw the region’s first battery conference. Over 150 academics are now registered with NEBA in the north east region alone.


To find out more about the opportunities for businesses to locate in North East England visit the Electric North East Website.