“Make no mistake. The tsunami of cheap, subsidised Chinese Electric Vehicles is coming. Europe seems to have been sleepwalking into an abyss”, that’s the opening statement of SIM²’s new documentary “Made in Europe: from mine to Electric Vehicle” in collaboration with the ENICON and EXCEED EU projects. This new documentary looks into the challenges Europe faces to set up its own integrated mine-to-EV value chain. Because of the unique position of the Nordic countries in this value chain, the documentary focuses on these countries. In this article we provide a short overview of “the making of” this unique documentary, after 8 intense days of filming in North Sweden (Week 1) and the South-West of Finland (Week 2).

Week 1: North Sweden (Kiruna & Aitik)
Week 1 comprised highly distinct and magical settings, well North of the Arctic Circle, ranging from:

Interviewing a large group of locals in the artic town of Kiruna to better understand their views on LKAB’s recent announcement concerning its “new” Per Geijer rare-earth deposit and the planned relocation of 6,000 inhabitants and the iconic terracotta-coloured Kiruna church. Surprisingly, all people we interviewed were extremely positive about the presence of the mine in Kiruna: "without the mine, there is simply no future here", was the common reaction, along with the lines "the mine gives and the mine takes". 

Spending an out-of-the-ordinary day with the charismatic Sami spokesperson Stefan Mikaelsson, As Deputy President of the General Assembly of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, he has been one of the most vocal persons to defend the traditional Sami culture and reindeer husbandry traditions in Sapmi (Swedish “Lapland”, a term the Sami’s don’t like at all by the way). It was an overwhelming experience for our team to speak to this remarkable person, have two meals with him and learn so many things about the Sami way. And yes, we felt their pain AND their pride! We realise there are no simple solutions (a special vodcast interview/shorter documentary is on its way).

Going almost 1,400 m underground in the world's largest underground iron ore mine, reaching the (current) end of the exploration tunnel towards the Per Geijer deposit: “To boldly go where (almost) no man (nor woman) has gone before”. After spending 6 hours underground, we conducted a 30-minute interview with LKAB’s CEO Jan Moström about the future of energy-transition mines in Europe, the permitting process, the Critical Raw Materials Act and the dangers of becoming completely dependent on China et al..

Returning to where it all started with our first documentary “Responsible mining in Europe”, i.e. in Boliden’s Aitik copper mine, just an hour’s drive from Kiruna. Our guest, Anders Sand (R&D Director), passionately showed how Boliden is able to compete with other copper mines in the world, despite the much higher salaries and the way better ESG performance in Sweden. The Aitik trip included a hitchhike with a 300 t mining truck, expertly driven by Tina, a female (mining truck) driving instructor (gender balance in Sweden!).

Week 1: South-West Finland (Espoo, Harjavalta, Uusikaupunki and Salo)
For the second filming week, our team travelled to Helsinki and started a road trip across South West Finland. In Finland we had the opportunity to cover the downstream parts of the mine to EV value chains, ranging from:

Interviewing Prof. Paivi Kinnunen (VTT) to understand why the Nordic countries take up positions #1-3 for “Innovation” in BloombergNEF’s widely-respected global battery supply chain ranking. What is the secret ingredient of their success? Is it a matter of throwing bucket loads of money at it or is there more to it? And how can they compete with the army of Chinese researchers in terms of developing next-generation battery chemistries and battery recycling processes? And of course we also talked (and joked) about the fact that Finland (#1) is ahead of Sweden (#2) in this ranking, which led to some hilarious scenes. “Nothing else matters”? 

On the day when the EC’s President Ursula von der Leyen presented her State of the Union and launched an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles, interviewing Esa Peuraniemi, Boliden Harjavalta Oy’s Development Manager, about the state of play with respect to Europe’s refining capacities for energy-transition metals. Talking about “fair metals”!

Visiting a state-of-the-art, spic-and-span battery plant, interviewing Matthew Congleton, the Production Manager at VALMET Automotive’s Salo plant about the future of the battery industry. We had a very lively discussion about the future of the European battery manufacturing & EV industry, the expected impact of the looming tsunami of cheap, heavily subsidised battery cells, as well as the battery chemistries of the present and future. And boy oh boy, did American-born, super-eloquent & optimistic Mathew provide firework!

Visiting Valmet Automotive’s contract vehicle manufacturing plant, while talking with Senior Vice-President Pasi Rannus (VALMET Automotive), about the future of the EV industry, the geopolitical challenges, the potential instruments Europe can use to protect itself. Likewise, we discussed the possibility of producing entry-level EVs “for all”. It led to a final stand-up by the presenter of the documentary: 

“Make no mistake. The tsunami of cheap, subsidised Chinese Electric Vehicles is coming. Europe seems to have been sleepwalking into an abyss. Luckily, Europe is slowly waking up. What we really need to accelerate now, is an industrial strategy that prevents decarbonisation going hand with de-industrialisation. We need to go for a cleantech-based re-industrialisation. Made-in-Europe. From mine to EV. And the Nordic countries lead by example.”

Next & final stop for filming (12-10-2023)
Deep-dive interview with the EC’s Executive Vice-President, Maros Sefcovic.  

(The film crew: Peter Tom Jones, Stijn van Baarle, Michael Van de Velde, Marius Acke, Casimir De Kimpe – Leuven, 20230928)

Read more detailed “the making of” reports here:
✅ Part I/The Sami Perspective (Stefan): Read report here
✅ Part II/LKAB’s Per Geijer deposit: Read report here
✅ Part III/Boliden Aitik: Read report here
✅ Part IV/Finland = Innovation Champion (VTT): Read report here
✅ Part V/Responsible refining in Boliden Harjavalta Oy Harjavalta: Read report here
✅ Part VI/(H)EV production at Valmet Automotive: Read report here
✅ Part VII/Battery back production at Valmet Automotive: Read report here

Key info “Made in Europe: From mine to EV”

  • Topic: The documentary looks into the challenges Europe faces to set up its own integrated mine-to-EV value chain. Because of the leading position of the Nordic countries across the kay parts of this value chain, the documentary focuses on these countries.
  • Director: Stijn Van Baarle (Storyrunner)
  • Presenter: Peter Tom Jones (SIM² KU Leuven)
  • Funding: Co-funding through Horizon Europe EXCEED, Horizon Europe ENICON and SIM2 KU Leuven. 
  • Launch date: 17 November 2023 (EU Raw Materials Week) (sneak preview on 16/11 during main event in La Plaza Hotel, Brussels)