THE North East is to become a world leader in low-carbon vehicle technology with the establishment of a new base for cutting-edge research.
Nissan has signed a provisional agreement with Gateshead College to create the new Zero Emission Centre of Excellence (ZECE).
The announcement could see up to 100 jobs created in the North East in the next year.
The ZECE will also act as a home for the manufacturing of Nissan’s quick charger technology after the firm reached an agreement with charging station manufacturer DBT to set up a new production facility at the centre which will produce up to 1,000 units a year for the European market.
The firm expects to employ up to 20 people in the short-term, but spokesman Vianney Devienne said it was hoped to create up to 100 jobs in the first year.
The memorandum of understanding signed yesterday builds on a relationship which has already seen Nissan and Gateshead College working together to develop the new Skills Academy for Sustainable Manufacturing and Innovation, next to the Sunderland plant.
The college leases the Nissan test track to create an open-access test centre specifically for low-carbon vehicles.
Etienne Henry, head of Nissan’s zero emission business unit in Europe, and college principal Richard Thorold put pen to paper.
Mr Henry said the new centre would concentrate on two particular strands of research initially – allowing cars to charge more quickly and the use of batteries at the end of their productive life in the car.
Electric vehicles were suitable for about 80 per cent of drivers’ needs, but allowing them to charge more quickly would help lay any fears over range to rest, he said.
“We believe quick-charge technology is the right answer,” said Mr Henry.
“Within a few minutes you could recharge up to 80 per cent of the capacity of your battery.”
Finding new uses for the batteries when they were no longer being used in the cars would make the production process more environmentally-friendly, he said.
“These batteries are designed to support the vehicle until the end of its life, but they still have capacity after that and can be used for other applications.
“You could use them in places such as hospitals, for instance – they have a need for a constant supply of electricity. In case of a breakdown they need an alternative supply.
“Instead of using diesel generators, these batteries could be a solution to provide that electricity at all times.”
The location for the new ZECE has yet to be decided.
On signing the agreement, Mr Thorold said: “This exciting new development will build upon recent investments by Nissan, the North East of England, the UK Government and the college and takes us forward as a centre at the forefront of international automotive and low carbon technology.”
Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said: “It was thrilling to be there for the launch of this exciting new chapter in the relationship between Nissan and Gateshead College, as well as in our area’s continuing progress in becoming a hub for green technology.”