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Skellefteå: From historic mining to Europe's largest lithium-ion battery factory

New technologies, sustainability and battery minerals were key themes at this year's Euro Mine Expo in Skellefteå, Sweden.

The municipality going by the same name has long been associated with Sweden's traditional mining industry and is thought to be one of the richest in minerals within Europe and the Nordics.

However, this year's trade fair and conference marked another important milestone in the history of the region, where just over 72,000 residents live: Skellefteå will soon host Europe's largest lithium-ion battery cell factory.

Northvolt AB, a company founded by two former Tesla Inc. executives, just commenced the first phase of construction for the €4 billion gigafactory after receiving a crucial environmental permit only days before the Euro Mine Expo kicked off.

The size of the factory is comparable to the first phase of Tesla's Gigafactory 1 in Nevada and production is set to start in 2020 with an initial capacity of 8 GWh per year before going up to at least 32 GWh upon completion of the factory in 2023.

Northvolt considered 10 potential locations in Sweden and Finland before opting for the municipality of Skellefteå for its factory as well as the municipality of Västerås for its Northvolt Labs, a facility for developing, testing and qualifying products.

The company also entered into strategic industrial partnerships with ABB Ltd., Vestas and Scania, alongside Canadian lithium supplier Nemaska Lithium Inc. and Japanese battery production equipment manufacturer SECI.

Nemaska Lithium agreed in late April to supply Northvolt with up to 5,000 tonnes of lithium hydroxide per year for five years, with Northvolt to grant €10 million in promissory notes.

At the Euro Mine Expo, a vast number of speakers referenced the development in their presentations, hailing it as an important step forward in ensuring Europe's independence and competitiveness in battery manufacturing.

Mikael Damberg, Sweden's minister for enterprise and innovation, described the factory as a "great example of how the sustainable shift in our economy (toward green technologies) will depend on metals and minerals."

"For Europe to actually secure an (independent) industry base, we will also have to secure our raw material base in a better way than today," the minister added.