Finland can make battery production greener

The battery strategy should be Finland’s key project that is aligned with infrastructure investments, Mayor of Vaasa Tomas Häyry writes in our blog.

Tomas Häyry, Mayor of Vaasa

When our GigaVaasa work was launched in Vaasa and the Vaasa region and we began our research on the battery value chain as a whole in late 2016, we quickly came to the conclusion that today’s battery production is not as sustainable as it could be. Based on this, the ideas guiding our GigaVaasa work, site development and marketing were: the ability to produce greener battery materials, which will enable making batteries greener.

The excavation of minerals often involves shipping the metal particles back and forth between continents. Then there are the chemicals, precursors and cathode materials, which are all shipped or otherwise transported back and forth between plants. This is neither ecologically nor economically reasonable. It makes the carbon footprint of the finished product – the battery – too high.

The battery value chain’s logistical needs must be identified and developed

The current situation could be improved by manufacturing the battery materials, battery cells and batteries in Finland. The minerals needed by the battery industry can be sourced locally, and the sustainability of the logistics chains has room for improvement. The logistics map is not bad, but it does have its weaknesses. Finland must urgently make infrastructure investments in support of the battery strategy. The battery strategy should be a key project that is aligned with the allocation of infrastructure investments, as has been done, for example, in the forest industry with significant infrastructure investment projects.

Finland’s main railway line requires upgrading throughout, and the connections to the main line from the sites must be made safe for the transport and intermediate storage of dangerous goods. Port capacity and potential for higher traffic flows must be supported. In some cities, this means changing the width or height of the tracks, while in others, it means improving the road and railway connections. The transport of raw materials functions both in the north-south direction and east-west direction, presenting special requirements for the logistics system. The investment plans known and the future location of customers will also have an effect on the transport of raw materials in the future.

Aiming for a circular economy in the energy sector

During the planning of the GigaVaasa site, we specifically searched for a greenfield site, i.e. an area that has not been previously used for industrial activities. Hardly any such sites can be found elsewhere in Finland or Europe, but there is one in the Laajametsä industrial site. The battery value chain as a whole is very energy-intensive, and we wanted to utilise the extensive existing energy sector expertise of the Vaasa energy cluster.

Our goal is to build a circular economy for the energy sector: to enable the recovery of waste heat from industrial processes and the use of condensation water in district heating, for example. This would be a win-win situation, both in the ecological and economic sense, for all the relevant actors and the region as a whole.

Experts needed for the battery industry

There has been a lot of discussion on how to attract experts and skilled workforce for the plants under construction in Skellefteå in Sweden and Mo i Rana in Norway, and Vaasa is now the subject of the same discussion. The labour needs can be met with the same recipe that was applied during the first decade of the 2000s for the Vaasa energy cluster. The number of jobs increased by 6,000 in ten years. This was achieved by investing in education, customised continuing professional development and employment-based immigration. Finland should also make the procedures for getting a residence permit or work permit easier to facilitate the recruitment of experts from abroad. 

The development of battery production is a climate action; for example, the electrification of transport reduces CO2 emissions. Vaasa has long been taking big steps towards a more sustainable future, and building an entire battery value chain in the region would be a logical continuation of this development work.

Tomas Häyry

Tomas Häyry

Mayor of Vaasa