• News
  • People
  • Long Read
  • Opinion
  • Weekend Wrap

News Spotlight

Finland looks to spark shift to carbon-neutral mobility

Finland has adopted some ambitious objectives for mobility, including halving domestic transport emissions from the levels of 2005 by 2030. The objectives have influenced the endeavours of many local companies and organisations.

Flo Maderebner / Pexels

Finnish firms and organisations have taken a number of approaches to decoupling mobility from carbon emissions.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in January announced it is investing 18 million euros in a facility for piloting carbon-neutral and energy-efficient solutions for transport, industry and built environments. The facility, it envisioned, will enable businesses to scale their solutions to production more cost-effectively and, consequently, support the development of products for both export and domestic use.

“We are building something unique for Europe,” stated Jussi Manninen, executive vice president at VTT, “a testing platform for suitable forms of energy for applying innovations in practice.”

“We will have people working on things like the interplay of traffic, households, industry and energy production in the energy system of the future, all under one roof,” he added. “The development of winning solutions requires close co-operation between industry, startups and research actors, and the piloting centre will provide a good framework for that.”

Ari Aalto, director of mobility and transport research at VTT, said the energy transition is occurring at an accelerating rate in the transport sector, as evidenced by the proliferation of electric vehicles. Consumers, though, continue to expect improvements in range and the charging experience, creating demand for innovations in battery and charging solutions, as well as low-emission power solutions for heavy traffic.

“In addition to battery and hydrogen cell technologies, we also need solutions for biofuels, electric fuels and efficient hybrid solutions,” he viewed.

Technologies that improve the profitability of renewable hydrogen production and nudge electrolysis closer to commercial application will be an integral part of the research environment, according to VTT. Another focal point will be solutions that enable the optimisation and adjustment of energy systems in response to weather-related fluctuations in green energy production.

The over 3 000-square-metre facility is to be completed adjacent to VTT Bioruukki, a piloting centre for bio-based and circular products, in 2024.

“Missing piece”

Grafintec, the Finnish subsidiary of Beowulf Mining, and Epsilon Advanced Materials in December announced they have put pen to paper on a memorandum of understanding for constructing an anode materials production facility in GigaVaasa, an industrial zone dedicated to the battery value chain in Vaasa, South Ostrobothnia.

The facility will be one of the first of its kind in Europe.

The City of Vaasa has begun filling up a large-scale industrial area dedicated for the battery value chain. Image: Mikael Matikainen / City of Vaasa

An anode materials production facility is “the missing piece of the jigsaw” at GigaVaasa, according to Kurt Budge, CEO of Beowulf Mining. “I am pleased that we have taken a significant step forward to complete the battery value chain at the GigaVaasa area,” he said.

His excitement was shared not only locally, but also nationally.

“We are delighted that our battery value chain will be complemented as planned and previously concluded agreements will attract new operators to the region,” stated Mayor of Vaasa Tomas Häyry.

“Finland’s national battery strategy has recently taken enormous steps forward, and once again we have happy news to share,” rejoiced Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä.

Markku Kivistö, director of cleantech at Business Finland, pointed out that the facility will be able to draw from the battery industry knowhow and supply of carbon-free electricity in Finland. It will thereby continue to fuel investments and job creation in the battery industry and boost the potential for regional co-operation.

Also Johnson Matthey and FREYR Battery have formalised their interest in the industrial zone marketed with access to green energy, raw materials, local co-operation opportunities and good connections by land, sea and air.

Circling in on critical raw materials

Building a circular economy for raw materials critical for electric mobility solutions, such as batteries, electronic components and ferromagnets, is also the objective of GoverMat, a four-year project involving VTT, Aalto University, the University of Oulu and the University of Eastern Finland.

The Academy of Finland in January announced it will contribute 1.2 million of the 1.7 million-euro budget of the project.

Many of the raw materials are regarded as critical for reasons ranging from limited global availability and availability only in geographically challenging regions to the low cost-efficiency of material recycling and forecasts for a spike in demand.

A Cactos energy storage unit in a wall-mounted rack at the newly founded startup’s product development laboratory in Muhos, Central Finland. Image: Cactos

While circularity is considered a means to mitigate the supply-related risks, the transition to a circular economy remains associated with several challenges due to its multi-faceted nature. The consortium, together with its international partners, has duly taken a multidisciplinary approach that combines branches of environmental policy, urban research and material sciences to create the holistic understanding needed for the transition.

New information is required, for example, on the decisions and regulations that affect raw-material flows relevant to electric mobility and the circular concepts that promote the efficiency of metals recovery and substitution of critical metals.

“In order to achieve the goals set for a sustainable society, it is crucial to develop an overall understanding of the policy measures, markets, material flows, balance between demand and supply of raw materials, and technological solutions that determine the use and circularity of critical raw materials,” summarisedElina Huttunen-Saarivirta, research professor at VTT.

Upcycled batteries

One concrete example of a circular energy solution is provided by Cactos, a Finnish startup repurposing the used batteries of Teslas.

The newly founded startup has set out to tackle the balance issues arising from the integration of renewable energy into electricity grids with batteries sourced from Teslas. It takes apart the batteries and reassembles the individual modules into rack-mounted energy storage units controllable through a proprietary cloud-computing service, which utilises artificial intelligence to optimise the operation of each unit based on data on grid status and local inputs.

The storages are leased to clients for a monthly fee and function essentially as virtual peaker plants, providing an injection of electricity at times of peak demand, according to Helsingin Sanomat, the largest daily newspaper in Finland.

Their capacity is high enough to power a property such as a hotel, retail shop or office building for up to a couple of hours – significantly longer than the couple of minutes promised by existing reserve-power batteries. The storages are unsuitable for domestic use because the main fuse in the majority of residential properties is too small.

The product not only protects against disruptions in the grid, but also creates cost savings by making it possible to avoid buying electricity when the prices are the highest.

Cactos uses Tesla batteries for a couple of reasons, according to CEO Oskari Jaakkola: they feature liquid cooling unlike those of many other electric vehicles and are relatively readily available in Norway, for instance.

The Finnish Government on 7 April 2021 adopted a resolution on the use of renewable and non-renewable natural resources in a bid to re-establish the national economy on a carbon-neutral circular society by 2035. The resolution states, for example, that both the productivity of resources and the circular material use rate should be doubled relative to the levels of 2015.

“The key objective of a circular economy is to keep the products, materials and their value in the economic cycle for as long as possible,” said Minister Lintilä.

By: Aleksi Teivainen