The buzz surrounding Europe’s electric vehicle (EV) market continues to escalate. Despite the fact that sales remain relatively low, carmakers have been splashing the cash on new model launches in the hope of igniting the segment. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the 2019 Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS), with several OEMs constructing ‘electric vehicle stands’ for the first year.

Suppliers are looking to get a piece of the action too. Some have revealed plans to start large-scale EV battery production, selecting Finland as their base.

Building batteries

Valmet Automotive has announced its intension to start large-scale production of batteries that will be used in EVs. The chosen site is a former mobile phone production factory in Salo, Finland - a small town in the south of the country around an hour and a half from the capital Helsinki.

“Our plans to launch volume production of batteries in Finland have progressed rapidly,” commented Olaf Bongwald, CEO, Valmet Automotive. “Salo’s heritage in production of electronic devices offers world class engineering and production knowhow as well as infrastructure for our needs.”

The company hopes to start making batteries at the facility in 2019. It has estimated that the plant will create over 300 direct jobs, and Valmet has said it hopes to start recruiting white collar workers as soon as possible.

“Valmet Automotive’s strategy responds to the rapidly changing needs of the automotive industry. Plans for the Salo plant reflect our intention to become a major player in the field of electric vehicle solutions, and the plant would also be a major milestone in the development of the Finnish battery cluster,” explained Jarkko Sairanen, chairman of the board at Valmet Automotive.

Managing materials

Nickel and cobalt - two key metals for batteries - are already being mined in Finland, while the first lithium mine in the European Union is expected to open in Finland in 2019.

In October 2018, German chemicals giant BASF revealed that it was building a battery materials production plant in Harjavalta, adjacent to the nickel and cobalt refinery owned by Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel). Scheduled to open in late 2020, the plant will utilise locally generated renewable energy sources, including hydro, wind and biomass.

“The co-location of BASF’s new plant and Nornickel’s metal refinery in Harjavalta will enable unparalleled access to a local nickel and cobalt supply,” observed Jeffrey Lou, senior vice president, battery materials, BASF. “Our high-nickel cathode materials are key to deliver enhanced energy density and vehicle range to our customers. With this world-scale production facility, BASF will be able to serve the European e-mobility growth strategies of key OEMs and cell suppliers with reliable supply and close collaboration.”

Multi-metal production company Terrafame revealed plans to invest in the construction of a battery chemicals plant in Sotkamo back in October 2018. The plan is to finish building work by the end of 2020 and then start commercial production at the start of 2021.

Terrafame has traditionally mined metals such as nickel and cobalt before selling them for further processing into chemicals for batteries. By bringing this processing in-house, the company hopes to provide “high-quality nickel and cobalt sulphates, which are produced in a process optimised for Terrafame’s ore,” explained Janne Palosaari, Terrafame’s chief commercial officer.

A global approach

While it is headquartered and has its main contract manufacturing facility in Uusikaupunki, Finland, Valmet Automotive has recently been looking to take on other markets outside of Europe. In January 2017 the company signed a strategic partnership with China-based Contemporary Amperex Technology Limited (CATL), a leading global provider of battery and energy storage solutions, to engineer EV drivetrain solutions and supply battery packs.

BASF also has a global reach, and is currently operating battery production plants in Germany, Japan and the US.

But European battery makers face stiff competition from Asia. The likes of LG Chem, Samsung, Panasonic and A123 Systems are currently dominating the market, and already have contracts with Tesla, Volkswagen, Ford, BMW, GM, Hyundai, Renault, Volvo and more.