Kingston was just a little late to the table when it came to attracting Volkswagen’s first electric vehicle (EV) battery manufacturing plant, one official says. However, the city’s growing expertise in EV batteries and their components will be key to landing future investments, the official adds.
Invest Kingston was aware of Volkswagen’s desire to find a suitable site for its new plant, which, the company announced in March, will be built in St. Thomas, Ont., with production slated to begin in 2027. According to Abdul Razak Jendi, investment manager, sustainable manufacturing with Invest Kingston, none of the sites that Kingston presented to Volkswagen was as ready to develop as the St. Thomas site.
“Companies are looking for mega-sites that are ready to go, so it just makes sense. It’s the speed to market that matters at this stage. Of course, a site closer to Umicore would make sense, but if that’s not available, then the speed to market wins,” said Jendi.
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In July 2022, Umicore, a global materials technology and recycling group, announced it would build a new battery component facility in Loyalist Township, just outside Kingston, to supply parts for electric vehicles. The plant will create 1,000 jobs while it is being built and hundreds of long-term positions once it is up and running.
In March 2022, North America’s leading recycler of lithium-ion batteries announced it was expanding into Eastern Ontario with a new facility in Kingston. Li-Cycle’s new Centre of Excellence will be established in the Kingston Business Park. Founded in 2016, Li-Cycle’s technologies are designed to recover 95 per cent of all materials in lithium-ion batteries sustainably. Kingston is home to Li-Cycle’s first commercial Spoke, which is capable of processing 5,000 tonnes of battery material annually.
“Having the two ends of the supply chain, with Umicore and Li-Cycle, makes the region attractive. Each region has its advantages and it all comes down to what companies value,” said Jendi.
Another main advantage for Kingston is its talent base and its ability to produce more talent through Queen’s University and, more recently, new programs being developed at St. Lawrence College, Jendi said.
“We are in talks with companies that are asking about the battery talent. We have the talent and are developing more and we have the government support as well,” he said.
The new Volkswagen plant in St. Thomas along with General Motors’s announcement in February of plans to produce electric vehicles out of its St. Catharines plant are both welcome developments for Kingston officials.
“I don’t believe all these operations can realistically end up near Kingston,” said Ahmad Ghahreman, CEO of Cyclic Materials in Kingston, which recycles the rare earth elements needed for such things as EV batteries. “Overall, we’re very excited about the future, as Ontario becomes the powerhouse for the electrification of North America.”
“I’m really happy that (Volkswagen) chose Ontario,” added Jendi. “It’s really going to cement our position.
“I would say it will push Umicore’s project further. I mean, Umicore came here and now VW is their potential client/customer, which is good. It will build confidence in the province that it is investment-ready,” he said.