Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. says it will build plants in the U.K. and Portugal to produce its advanced lithium-ion batteries with financial assistance from the two governments.

In doing so, the Renault SA-Nissan Alliance says it marks the first significant step towards producing batteries for its Zero Emission Mobility Program in Europe.

The plants are to supply the advanced lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles scheduled for production by the two auto makers.

The projected annual capacity for each facility is 60,000 units. Nissan says the alliance is continuing talks with other European governments to identify possible plant locations to meet similar volume requirements.

The U.K. site will be located in Sunderland, where Nissan already has a vehicle-assembly operation, and serve as the centerpiece of the newly established Low Carbon Economic Area in the northeast of England.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says Nissan’s investment in the battery facility and its hope to start producing EVs in Sunderland will create up to 350 direct jobs and both create and protect many more jobs in the associated supply chain.

“This investment is also hugely significant as we embark on Building Britain’s Future, our plan for (economic) recovery and beyond, powered by low-carbon, high-technology industries, products and services,” a Nissan statement quotes Brown as saying.

“Sunderland could now be a strong contender to produce electric vehicles for Nissan in Europe, and we will continue to work with Nissan to ensure this happens.”

As part of the newly established Low Carbon Economic Area, the British government intends to establish a new training center specializing in low-carbon automotive technologies, a technology park and an open-access test track for eco-friendly vehicles.

Trevor Mann, Nissan senior vice president-Manufacturing Europe, says the collaboration between local businesses, universities and colleges will create a hub of expertise to boost innovation and accelerate business growth in a “green” industry.

Nissan and the regional development agency One North East last March signed a memorandum of understanding committing both partners to explore the area’s potential to spearhead the U.K.’s drive towards zero-emissions mobility.

In Portugal, several possible sites for Nissan’s battery plant, creating 200 jobs, have been identified and the final selection will be announced at a later date.

Eric Nicolas, Nissan administration and finance senior vice president in Europe, says the zero-emission mobility program is a priority for the auto maker.

“At Nissan, as we manage through this global crisis, we continue to prepare for the major evolutions that are occurring in our industry,” he says in a statement. “We are not compromising our efforts to mass-market the electric car. We have taken a key step to making zero-emissions a reality.”