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Oxford, UK: Australian iron-ore magnate Andrew Forrest says he wants to compete with one of China’s largest battery producers, Envision, in a bid to decarbonise his own mining company.
The Fortescue boss made the comments after announcing plans to expand his British battery company WAE in Britain’s Oxfordshire, claiming that he wanted to make the company “the leading-edge battery supplier of the world”.
Andrew Forrest, executive chairman of Fortescue Metals Group, with UK trade secretary Kemi Badenoch as they tour the Fortescue-owned WAE facility at Grove, Oxfordshire.Credit: Domenico Pugliese
Forrest acquired the company last year to produce batteries powered by a technology used for race cars that can be scaled up for use in the huge trucks that operate on his iron ore mines in Western Australia.
The purchase is part of his ambition to decarbonise Fortescue’s iron ore operations by 2030.
The company’s workforce is set to swell from 700 to 1050 by the end of the year. It currently produces about 200 batteries and aims to double that within five years.
By contrast, the Shanghai-headquartered Envision Energy says it has fitted 800,000 vehicles with electric batteries, through its subsidiary Envision ASEC. Envision ASEC has two battery plants in England’s north.
Standing alongside the UK’s secretary of state for trade Kemi Badenoch inside the WAE plant, he said he was keen to take on his Chinese rivals.
“This is just the start,” Forrest said.
“We know Envision well and we’re very happy to compete with Envision,” he said.
Badenoch said the British government had encouraged Envision to invest in the UK but was focussed on diversifying supply lines.
“In terms of where battery companies will come from, I would like to see them come from everywhere, but we also need to recognise just the strength that China has in this area, and we need to think more broadly about where we have comparative advantage and invest there,” Badenoch said.
“We need to take each country on its own merits.”
“Relationships change … we cannot cut off what I think is our fourth-largest trading partner [who] we rely on for so much, but we also recognise that there are a lot of difficulties, which I won’t go into now, about China, whether it’s about human rights, economic coercion and so on,” she said.
Forrest defended expanding the British battery industry rather than growing it in Australia.
“The whole world is changing massively, you can’t look at it as a zero-sum game,” he said.
“We must establish manufacturing centres, if we’re to save our little planet, where we’re most welcome and we’re feeling a warm welcome here in Britain.”
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