How 'Battery Valley' is changing northern France

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How 'Battery Valley' is changing northern France
The ACC battery factory in Billy-Berclau. (Photo by FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP)

France's northernmost region is setting out its stall to become Europe's 'battery valley', making batteries for electric vehicles and hoping to capitalise on the green transition.


In the northern Hauts-de-France region, three large-scale factories under are construction near Dunkirk and two more developments have already opened - one in Douai and another in the neighbouring Pas-de-Calais département, near Billy-Berclau.

And earlier this month, a “giga test centre” dedicated to the production and approval of gigafactory batteries opened in Bruay-la-Buissière.

The Billy-Berclau site aims to produce 40 gigawatt hours per year by 2030, which could equip 500,000 electric cars.

Green reindustrialisation

The development of a battery industry in France has a twofold purpose - revitalising a traditionally industrial area that in recent decades has suffered badly from factory closures and unemployment; and getting France on the path of the 'ecological transition' towards its goal of Net Zero by 2050.


President Emmanuel Macron has championed the ‘green reindustrialisation’ of France, saying on a visit to Hauts-de-France in May that: “We are on a site emblematic of our strategy … your site is committed to decarbonisation and I thank you because we can reindustrialise in a clean way.”

Despite the influx of investment, France lags behind Germany which has nine gigafactories planned, but the pace of development indicates an ambition to take the lead in the buzzword industry of the moment. 

Upcoming projects

Macron in May confirmed that Taiwan’s ProLogium and Chinese firm XTC would build two factories at Dunkerque during a visit to the area. On 180 hectares, ProLogium plans to produce 50 gigawatt hours (GWh) to 60 gigawatt hours. Enough to equip between 500,000 and 700,000 electric vehicles per year.

Reports suggest more investors have the region on a shortlist of candidates. Jenlain and Onnaing are in the running to host a €600 million battery component site, and local newspaper Voix du Nord reports that an Estonian business has the region on a shortlist for a potential gigafactory.

Announcing €5.2 billion investment from ProLogium - its first European operation - for an electric battery factory, which is expected to employ 3,000 people when it opens, Macron predicted that the industry would create up to 20,000 jobs by the end of the decade in the Dunkirk area alone.

The €1.7 billion Franco-Chinese XTC/Orano factory at Loon-Plage, meanwhile, is set to create 1,700 direct jobs manufacturing upstream components for lithium batteries, while Grenoble-based start-up Verkor is also investing €1.7 billion in a factory at Bourbourg, near Gravelines, which is set to create 1,200 direct jobs, and 3,000 indirect ones.

In nearby Lille, meanwhile, Terra Nova Developpement is working on the processes for recycling lithium batteries.

Local challenges

The employment news is welcome in part of France hit by the closure of three refineries in the past 15 years - with the loss of thousands of jobs. 

The north east corner of France is sometimes described as the 'rust belt' - an area with a history of coal mining and heavy industry that has gradually seen mines close and factories move their production to other - cheaper - countries.

The classic documentary Merci Patron - made by journalist-turned-MP François Ruffin - shows the impact in this area of the closure of a factory owned by France's richest man, and the outsourcing of the jobs abroad.

Bringing the three additional gigafactories to the Dunkerque area alone will mean the construction of an 11km-long “electricity highway” to supply them with energy.


The challenge, for national and regional authorities, is to adapt an entire structural ecosystem for the new industry.

There’s a human and environmental impact to consider, in part of the world that is already home to more than 450 industrial businesses, which - according to Franceinfo - produce 13 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year - more than a fifth (21 percent) of the total CO2 output of France’s industries.

As well as the environmental challenge, structural factors - focusing on recruitment and training, providing housing for those moving into the area for work, and developing the transport network to cope with additional pressures - cannot be ignored.


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