Construction of the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s first European plant for the production of advanced lithium-ion batteries began April 27 in Sunderland, the United Kingdom.

Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Company Ltd., carried out the groundbreaking ceremony at Nissan’s Sunderland car plant to mark the beginning of the £210 million project.

The 25,000m2 facility will be operational in early 2012 with an initial annual production capacity of 60,000 units and will supply batteries for both Nissan and Renault electric vehicles (EVs).

The plant is expected to create 200 new Nissan jobs and a further 600 across the U.K. supply chain.

The Alliance has previously announced that a second battery facility will be located in Cacia, Portugal and has also announced plans to produce batteries at Renault’s Flins plant in France.

Last month, Nissan confirmed that Sunderland will also become a production location for the Nissan LEAF electric vehicle – the world’s first affordable mass-produced zero-emission vehicle.

Nissan LEAF will be launched in 2013 on the plant’s Number 2 production line alongside the recently unveiled JUKE compact crossover car, which enters production in August 2010.

Nissan’s Oppama Plant in Japan will be the first plant globally to begin producing LEAF later this year, and will support the car’s U.K. sales launch in early 2011. The Nissan LEAF and advanced lithium-ion batteries will also be produced at Nissan’s Smyrna plant in the USA from late 2012.

Nissan is also continuing to invest in a portfolio of low-emission technologies (called PureDrive) such as clean diesels, efficient internal-combustion engines and hybrids.

Speaking at the battery plant groundbreaking ceremony, Shiga commented: “Europe will play a key role in the Alliance’s global commitment to offer an emission-free future for road transport, and today marks another important step towards that goal.

“When operational, the battery plants in both Sunderland and Portugal will support the launch of zero-emission electric vehicles across Europe on an unprecedented scale.”

Sunderland Plant’s battery facility will provide a centerpiece for the North East region in its capacity as a Low Carbon Economic Area.

In March, Regional Development Agency One North East announced that a National Training Centre for Sustainable Manufacturing will also be established adjacent to Nissan’s car plant.

The center will give learners access to the latest technology and sustainable production methods and Nissan will contribute best-practice skills sharing in lean manufacturing, logistics and maintenance.