Revealed at the end of September 2023, the choice of land for the construction of Northvolt’s first factory outside of Europe seems to displease activist environmentalists. Having claimed responsibility for the operation, a group claims to have inserted steel bars and nails into the trees threatened by the Swedish company’s project.
Recovery of an abandoned site?
Called “Northvolt Six,” the lithium-ion battery factory for electric vehicles that Northvolt plans to build in North America already has a location. It is in Canada, straddling two towns in the suburbs of Montreal: Saint-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville.
In May 2023, there was talk of resuming the land of the former Canadian Industries Limited (Cil) explosives factory, abandoned since 1999. Other projects were in competition with that of the Swedish company.
From the following September, the settlement areas were officially announced through the press. Northvolt could have a site of 170 hectares, with the objective of eventually operating a gigafactory with a capacity of 60 gigawatt hours.
In a first phase, it would be limited to 30 GWh with deliveries from 2026. Which would already require an investment of 5 billion dollars, or 4.58 billion euros depending on prices on January 24, 2024. And this, with financial support from the governments of Canada and Quebec.
Why this location?
The 3,000 employees who would be active in this initial phase would be responsible for manufacturing cathodes and lithium-ion battery cells, but also for recycling, with the spirit of a “ circular production entirely on site “. Northvolt had studied several possible locations in North America in advance, using a variety of criteria that the site straddling Saint-Basile-le-Grand and McMasterville meets.
Among them, easy access to strategic materials and the need for a green source to power buildings. “ Quebec hydroelectricity guarantees cell production from 100% renewable energy », Quickly identified Northvolt. Another decisive point: “ The region represents an ideal location in the North American automotive industry value chain ».
Co-founder of the Swedish company, Paolo Cerruti was delighted to be able to set up here: “ The potential of Northvolt Six is enormous, not only to rapidly develop our capacity to deliver sustainable batteries to the North American market, but also to accelerate the emergence of Quebec as a key player in the global energy transition. “. He is now faced with a very delicate situation to manage.
From there, everything is set for activist environmentalists to seek to block the development of this project. They too align the arguments. However, it is difficult to recognize in the presentation they make of the site of former grounds of an explosives factory. They mention “ one of the last natural environments in Montérégie ” Who ” is endangered », specifying that “ 1.4 square kilometers of wetlands and wooded areas » will be shaved.
There is a diverse fauna on site including bats, birds, amphibians, turtles and snakes, with “ several species classified as ‘threatened or ‘endangered’ “. The group which named its action “ Sabotage on the Northvolt field: arming the forest » reports “ 142 species of birds ” on the spot.
He denounces the allocation to Northvolt by the provincial and federal governments of a global envelope of “ $7.3 billion to the private sector to perpetuate the ‘car culture’ “. Activists do not want a “ sort of Quebec Silicon Valley focusing on ‘innovation zones’ ».
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Deep transformation of the site
For the collective, the opening of the Northvolt factory would be accompanied by “ the sudden arrival of thousands of workers in rural areas » which would generate “ pressure on the real estate market as well as health, education and social assistance services “. In their press release, the activists took care to indicate that they were not hostile to potential factory personnel.
They also fear that the exit of hydrocarbons will result in: the multiplication of open-air mines to extract the metals used to manufacture batteries; the construction of new hydroelectric dams on First Nations lands [NDLR = Expression employée pour désigner les peuples autochtones du Canada autres que les Métis et les Inuits] ; the establishment of mega-factories along rivers; as well as the development of nuclear power in many countries.
In order to make progressing the work costly and complicated, the group adopted a method “ used in the early 1980s by Earth First! to prevent the felling of redwoods in the American Pacific Northwest “. Activists inserted steel bars and nails into the trunks of trees threatened by the construction of the factory.
An action which would only have a “ minimal impact on health » hardwoods while exposing felling machines to significant risks of degradation. The chain of a chainsaw, for example, could break by hitting one of the bars or one of the nails lodged in the trunks.
To dissuade the professionals responsible for cutting, activists marked the trapped trees with an “S” in paint. by displaying their approach next to it.
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