From pollution to solution

Nikel can be a key-supplier to the ongoing car revolution, says Frederic Hauge, making the historic drive of an electric Tesla across the Kola Peninsula together with BarentsObserver.


Last month, Tesla Motors announced plans to build the world’s largest advanced battery plant. When opening in 2017, the plant will have an annual capacity to deliver batteries to 875,000 of Tesla’s Model S. To accomplish that, Tesla will need plenty of nickel.

“The plant here in Nikel can just forget about selling metal to Tesla’s new battery plant as long as they are worst on dirt,” says Frederic Hauge, president of the environmental group Bellona. 

Hauge has already had his first meeting with people in Norilsk-Nickel, hoping to team up the company supplying 30 percent of the world’s nickel production with Tesla in a dialog to find a solution.

“If Norilsk-Nickel builds a new state-of-the-art, zero emission production line for nickel, they could surly grab huge market shares in supplying the battery production for electric cars,” says Frederic Hauge.

Will double world’s production of batteries
Tesla has made no secret that they intend to transform the car industry from being a sector creating climate changes to become a part of the solution with zero emission vehicles. Naturally, that includes the entire production line as well as the cars themselves. Tesla’s new Gigafactory for batteries will get its electricity solely from sun and wind power. With a capacity of 30 gigawatt hours of power annually, the factory will produce more batteries than all other sources on earth combined.

”Minimizing the environmental foot-print for a company like Tesla forces all their suppliers to prove clean production. Norilsk-Nickel is in the other end of that scale today,” says Frederic Hauge when overlooking the factory in the town of Nikel on Russia’s Kola Peninsula. Sulphur dioxide and heavy metals from the chimneys and roof of this run-down plant is seriously destroying the fragile nature in the Russian, Norwegian borderland in the north.

First Arctic long-distance electric drive
With Frederic Hauge in the driver’s seat, BarentsObserver takes the role as co-pilot in the 230 kilometer ride from Kirkenes in northern Norway towards Murmansk on the Barents Sea coast. The drive is the first long-distance tour ever made into Russia’s Kola Peninsula with an electric car. Without re-charging the batteries, and with temperatures down to minus 17 degrees Celsius, the Tesla proved to be a brilliant means of transportation in Arctic conditions. 

The Tesla Model S 85 kWh has a range of around 500 kilometers in good conditions on a good summer day.  We have borrowed the car from Finn Helge Lunde, a local in Kirkenes that throughout the winter successfully have driven the car on snowy roads. But, how will the Tesla preform the drive across the Kola Peninsula? We started off with a displayed estimated range of 460 kilometers. 

Unlike other electric cars, the 2,1 tons heavy Tesla Model S is a full-size family vehicle with seats for five and space for luggage.  It takes power to move. By the Russian border check-point Borisoglebsk, our display reads 435 kilometers in range. You quickly learn to pay attention to the “range-meter” at such drive. There aren’t any chargers for electric cars on the road between Kirkenes and Murmansk. Fully aware that low temperatures and bumpy road is likely to reduce the range further we drive softly. 

Pure joy to drive
“The Tesla has a 15 percent shorter range in temperatures like today compared with a drive in the summer,” says Frederic Hauge. Home in Oslo, he was the launch customer in Europe for Model S last year. Before that, the Bellona environmental group has been driving electric cars since the first smaller ones came in the late 80ties. 

With no noise from any combustion engine, driving the Tesla is a pure joy over the Kola Peninsula mountains where the road is bathed in low winter sunshine. The Russian roads don’t invite to speeding, but the car’s 0-100 km/h acceleration in 5,6 seconds is nice to have when passing a long row of slow-motion moving heavy military trucks.

The Tesla really make people turn heads as we make short stops at the border check-point, the town of Nikel, the Titovka road café, not least to talk about Murmansk. If a car could be named “sexy” it would be this one. Unlike in Norway, where soon 5,000 of the Model S are sold, our drive is the very first introduction of Tesla to the Russian north.

“Tesla is a game-changer for the car industry. Driving the car to Murmansk is important for Bellona in our work to provide solutions to pollution problems,” says Frederic Hauge. Bellona is this week celebrating its 20-years anniversary for the organization’s office in Murmansk.

“Long-range electric vehicles are perfect for Murmansk. Charged with electricity from hydro-power or wind power such cars are the future, also here in the north,” Hauge argues. Russia is the fastest growing car market in Europe.

Arriving in Murmansk, the display showed that we still had some 70 kilometer range left on the batteries. In Murmansk, Bellona has arranged for the hotel Park Inn to get the first parking slot in northern Russia with charger for electric cars.