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Finland’s future success powered by batteries

The groundwork for significant energy storage business has been laid in Vaasa.GigaVaasa / Facebook

Finland is placing itself at the forefront of the battery sector, boosted by recent significant investments in industrial production and green innovations.

In early 2021, Finland outlined a national battery strategy aspiring to elevate its industry to pioneering status by 2025. The significance of this goal is pressing: the value of the European battery market is tipped to reach 250 billion euros by that year driven by significant carbon reduction milestones looming Europe in the near future. Finland, for its part, has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative by 2040. Numerous innovations have thus emerged in Finland across various sectors to help reach these goals, yet the omnipresence of battery power in meeting the needs of wider green ambitions has placed greater emphasis on developing value chains for such that don’t drain the Earth’s resources.

On the path to the more immediate 2025 signpost, Finland’s battery strategy focus is chiefly on the availability and processing of raw materials resourced responsibly, and production and research activities related to battery materials and recycling. In addition to producing skills, innovations, sustainable economic growth, wellbeing and jobs domestically, Finland is also incorporating an international perspective with its development of batteries.

“Finland is introducing advanced processes and technologies and improving competences in a new area that will enable a responsible green transition,” summarised the Minister of Economic Affairs,Mika Lintilä.

The Minister of Economic Affairs, Mika Lintilä (second from left), was present for the opening of the plant. Image: Valtioneuvosto

One significant step was taken in June, when a new battery chemicals plant operated by multi-metal company Terrafame opened in the town of Sotkamo. What distinguishes Terrafame’s factory is its energy-efficient chain that produces battery chemicals with the world’s smallest carbon footprint. This is facilitated by hosting integrated production in Terrafame’s industrial area whereby battery chemicals are processed from the company’s own mine.

“Finland is well placed to seize the opportunities offered by the growing battery industry in Europe and globally. By opening one of the world’s largest battery chemicals production lines, Terrafame and its customers and partners are promoting low-carbon modes of transport,” Lintilä added.

Planting roots in Vaasa

Another goal of Finland’s battery strategy is to seek out new customers and create commercial opportunities for Finnish battery companies predominantly in Europe and the Nordic countries. Recent news from the west coast of the country aligns with this focus. The City of Vaasa and FREYR Battery in May signed a fixed-term lease agreement for a battery cell plant being constructed in the region.

There is a great need for green batteries in the Vaasa region, with locally based companies such as ABB, Hitachi ABB Power Grids, Wärtsilä, Danfoss and Yaskawa all using batteries and energy storage in their applications. Image: GigaVaasa

“With this lease agreement, we will have access to 130 hectares of land in Vaasa, which we have previously seen as an ideal location for our future battery cell plant,” said Axel Thorsdal, senior vice president for project development at FREYR Battery. “The region has plenty of affordable, renewable energy and convenient proximity to raw materials. These things, combined with a skilled workforce, make this lease a major move in the right direction.”

With the ink dry on the agreement, FREYR Battery is now able to complete analysing the soil and the potential environmental impact this year before potential construction work commences on Finland’s first battery cell factory of this size. The company has entered into strategic collaboration with the City of Vaasa to develop industrial-scale battery technology and production in the country, forming an integral part of the Vaasa’s ecosystem for a future green battery industry, known as GigaVaasa.

Powering up

Industrial production is not the be all and end all for batteries here in Finland. Other companies, such as Finnish renewable material producer Stora Enso, are coming up with novel solutions. The company has signed an agreement with Swedish battery developer and producer Northvolt to develop wood-based batteries. The goal of the partnership is to manufacture sustainable batteries using lignin-based hard carbon produced with locally sourced renewable wood.

Stora Enso and Northvolt are developing the world’s first industrialised battery featuring anode sourced entirely from European raw materials. Image: Stora Enso

Stora Enso currently supplies the market with renewable anode materials made from trees. It does this chiefly through the production of lignin, a plant-derived polymer found in the cell walls of dry-land plants that is also one of the biggest renewable sources of carbon currently available.

“Our lignin-based hard carbon, Lignode by Stora Enso, will secure the strategic European supply of anode raw material, serving the sustainable battery needs for applications from mobility to stationary energy storage,” saidJohanna Hagelberg, executive vice president for biomaterials at Stora Enso.

Northvolt’s role in the collaboration, meanwhile, is focused on cell design, production process development and the eventual scale-up of the technology.

Heads not in the sand

Vatajankoski uses the heat provided by the storage to prime the waste heat recovered from their data servers. Image: Polar Night Energy / Vatajankoski

Other smaller-scale battery innovations in Finland are also gathering momentum. Polar Night Energy and Vatajankoski recently teamed up to create a sand-based thermal energy storage system. In what is touted as a world first, the solution converts electricity to heat which is stored in the sand to be used in a district heating network.

“The construction of the storage went well, especially considering that the solution is completely new,” said Polar Night Energy’s co-founder and CTO, Markku Ylönen.

The heat storage itself is a steel container measuring four metres wide and seven meters high. It has an automated heat storage system and houses a hundred tonnes of sand inside.

The inexpensive and durable material can store temperatures of about 500–600 degrees Celsius, with a capacity of 100 kilowatts of heating power and eight megawatt-hours of energy.

“Heat storages can significantly help to increase intermittent renewables in the electrical grid. At the same time, we can prime the waste heat to [a] usable level to heat a city. This is a logical step towards combustion-free heat production,” Ylönen continued.

“We have already learnt that our system has even more potential than we initially calculated. It’s been a positive surprise.”

Energising international expertise

Wonder what it’s like to work in the battery cluster in Finland? Originally from England, Ben Wilson has forged a career for himself here in research and science, and his work significantly contributes to Finland achieving its goal of becoming the leading hub for batteries in Europe. His thoughts on the matter? “The battery research community in Finland is like working in one big happy family.”

Read more in our in-depth interview with the staff scientist specialising in raw materials, metallurgy and electrochemistry at Aalto University.


By: James O’Sullivan