Person in Focus – Liisa Haavanlammi
Why did you decide to join Outotec?
I started with Outokumpu early 1990's as a graduate having studied metallurgy and international marketing. The technology arm of Outokumpu, which today is Outotec, was an attractive option because it blended international business with my main field of study.
Could you briefly describe your journey with Outotec?
I spent the first decade of my career at the Outotec Research Center (ORC) in Pori, Finland working on many projects and applications that are still in use today, mainly hydrometallurgical processes and facilities such as nickel plants and the hydro copper demonstration plant built in Pori in 2003. During the time in Pori I was also seconded to some of our project locations for commissioning and operations. The HydroCopper process development led to my transfer to Espoo in 2006 as the hydrometallurgical sales team was looking for a sales manager to sell in particular the HydroCopper process and other new applications. Then I had already gained experience also in Nickel and Cobalt processing.
At that time my focus was on new solutions that the company had the capabilities for, but had never been delivered before. The skills and knowledge that I gained at ORC gave me a broader perspective on what the company could offer outside of what had been done before. Also the time at the R&D Center gave me the tools to analyze the opportunities that are being brought to us mostly from persistent and enthusiastic clients.
The lithium business started with the Keliber project in Finland, which began development in 2002 and which kickstarted Outotec’s interest in lithium processing. We were mostly working with lithium minerals and then started as well our brine processing development. Being involved in the field from such an early stage has proved to be a key asset for Outotec today, when the need of lithium experts is quite apparent.
What have you learnt so far in your career that you'll bring to this new role as Director of Battery Metals?
Whenever there has been interest in lithium projects people have involved me in discussions with clients, and when the conversation moved on to lithium-ion batteries these cases naturally came across my table as well, from a sales perspective. In my new role I’m responsible for battery metal processing up to precursors, and because I know the clients well from my time as a sales manager, I have been able to direct our focus to the client needs today. Rather than creating an offering and then looking for someone who needs it, we have developed our process to meet the needs of the industry, based on challenges that clients have come to us with. I was also involved in strategy development from an early stage, which has been the cornerstone of our development path within these recent years.
Tell us a little about Outotec’s current involvement in battery metals and how you see the business situation going forward?
This is a growth area where Outotec has a lot to gain. If the electric car boom continues as predicted, then there is a clear need for more battery metals, but also efficient precursor applications. Typically, plants are batch processes and scale up by adding more production lines using smaller 10 m3 reactors. Outotec technologies, on the other hand, are inherently designed for continuous processes, including scale up to reactors with capacities several times larger to improve cost efficiency in particular in precursor plants, but also lithium hydroxide processing. We have an extensive equipment portfolio featuring complementary reactors, filters, and calcining technologies along with experience of larger processes, which is where we are able to add value for clients who are less familiar with bigger operations.
Which key focus areas in Outotec’s battery metals product group would you like to develop?
In particular we are aiming to launch Outotec proprietary precursor plant in the near future. Thanks to our own R&D Center being able to continue the development during this spring. We are also developing solutions to battery recycling. One of the bigger targets is also to implement the Outotec LiOH process, of which I am a coinventor.
What, in your opinion, are the main challenges currently faced by customers in the industry?
Scale-up, as mentioned before, but also which energy storage solution is finally chosen by the automotive industry. The electric car penetration rate has a large impact on the need for battery metals which in turn impacts development of Ni-Co-Li projects. Currently in particular lithium is not produced in sufficient amounts to support the level of demand expected from electric cars in 2025.
What do you think are Outotec's strengths as a company? Why should customers buy our equipment and services?
Our comprehensive equipment portfolio combined with our deep process knowledge supports the battery metals business well. The processes in this industry are not focused on meeting production tonnes but rather on achieving high chemical purity, which our equipment and process knowledge can help to deliver. We have been executing nickel, cobalt and lithium projects already for some decades, and the chemistry behind is the same. Our focus this year are our project deliveries in Europe and South America, to get the plants started and product quality met. It has been greatly valued by the clients, that Outotec is ready to take liabilities on product quality associated to a plant delivery project.
What do you find most interesting when working with customers? What drives you in your work?
The customers are your driver in all roles. In a sales role it is most visible, because everything you do has to meet the customer needs. Establishing a connection, using your communication skills to build trust are really important for all of us. I do get my drive from people, being able to meet - sometimes even exceed - the client expectations and seeing the enthusiasm in our own people to what they do well and then recognizing that it is very much something that the clients need. When working together with people there is always that one key moment when everything clicks, and all the ideas fall into place – it’s a great feeling!