AI Startups Are Facing a ReckoningRead more

Left to right, battery-grade nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate, both produced in Finland. Photo: Courtesy Finnish Minerals Group.

The Electric: Europe’s Battery Supply Chain Is Likely to Be Far-Flung—and Mostly Not in Europe

Photo: Left to right, battery-grade nickel sulphate and cobalt sulphate, both produced in Finland. Photo: Courtesy Finnish Minerals Group.

In the early years of this century, Finnish phone manufacturer Nokia controlled nearly 40% of global handset sales, creating a windfall for the country’s economy. Nokia accounted for a quarter of the country’s economic growth and corporate tax revenue, a fifth of its exports, and almost two-thirds of the value of the Helsinki stock market. But in 2007, Apple released the iPhone, which clobbered Nokia. The company went the way of the buggy whip, and it took Finland until 2021 to again reach the per capita income of the boom days. 

Today, Finland has a new potential champion—not a single company, but an industry: electric vehicle batteries. Decades ago, Europe, like the U.S., began shedding most of its mining industry. Now, though, the EU needs battery metals, and Finland—which has been extracting metals since the 1930s and never gave up its mines—is making itself the continent’s source of lithium, cobalt, nickel and copper. Already, the country produces 10% of the world’s processed cobalt, second only to China, and in the last month automakers Renault and Stellantis signed major supply deals for Finnish nickel.

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From left: Paul Graham, Garry Tan and Michael Seibel. Photos by Getty. Art by Mike Sullivan.
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