Mika Anttonen amassed a $1.4 billion fortune within the soiled enterprise of oil and fuel. Now he’s railing towards the very trade that made him wealthy. However he hasn’t stopped refining. 

Because the Finnish wind thrashes outdoors, Mika Anttonen disrobes and enters his sauna. He dumps water on the embers, which spit again a cloud of steam. The temperature rises to a degree simply above painful. Right here, on some days, the billionaire ponders his newest mission: saving a planet that, just like the sauna, is quickly rising too scorching.

 “Situations are getting worse,” says Anttonen, 53. “Now we have to behave as rapidly as potential.” 

Anttonen’s concern is curious for a person within the oil enterprise. A former vitality dealer, he now runs his personal Helsinki-based agency, referred to as St1. The corporate, which had 2019 revenues of $7.8 billion, refines over a billion gallons of oil annually, operates 1,300 fuel stations in Scandinavia and has a 15%-plus share of the diesel gas market in Norway, Sweden and Finland.  

Finland’s Billionaires

“If we weren’t going to [refine and sell oil], someone else would,” Anttonen says “I’ve to be sure that our firm will keep alive.” Maybe complicating issues: he’s value an estimated $1.4 billion, making him Finland’s sixth richest particular person.

However Anttonen is decided to maneuver past fossil fuels. St1 has put $200 million into renewable vitality initiatives over the past three years, equal to 44% of its web revenue throughout that interval, or 1% of its income. Anttonen is lobbying European governments to cost companies for his or her carbon output and to limit short-distance flights. At conferences and EU summits, he reveals up along with his “vitality transformation” PowerPoint in tow. Regardless of the oil beneath his fingernails, Anttonen hopes to develop into a reputable engine for change. “It’s our duty to contribute,” he says.  

To that finish, he’s funding renewable vitality initiatives that he hopes can compete with carbon fuels at scale, like a 4-mile geothermal well in Espoo, Finland, designed to supply 10% of the area’s warmth when accomplished subsequent 12 months. He desires to reforest massive swaths of the earth, beginning with a pilot involving “fast-growing” bushes in Morocco. Most ambitiously, Anttonen plans to seize carbon from the ambiance and switch it into vitality, an thought referred to as “Energy-to-X.” The idea, removed from confirmed, entails taking carbon dioxide and fusing it with hydrogen molecules produced utilizing renewable energy, creating a brand new artificial gas.

Anttonen’s marketing campaign could also be helped by the oil surplus attributable to Covid-19, which sharply diminished international demand for oil. “In case you take a look at a variety of refineries, they’re truly money detrimental on the quick time period,” says Petri Gostowski, an fairness analysis analyst at Helsinki-based Inderes. “Firms might want to speed up their [renewable] investments.” 

“Regardless that we now have this pandemic, emissions [have been] lower very, little or no,” Anttonen says. However there isn’t any time to dwell in gloom—and even actuality. “The query,” he says, “is how will we sort out this drawback?” 

Anttonen’s hard-nosed ambition is rooted in his household line. Each of his grandfathers fought in World Warfare II. His paternal grandfather was shot within the eye by Russian troopers, then suffered shrapnel wounds from a bomb explosion. “He was making jokes in a while,” says Anttonen. “The Russians, they took my eye, however I took some steel as compensation.’”

The warfare improved Finland’s way of life, and by extension its authorities companies, which offered an important backstop for Anttonen throughout his childhood. His mother and father divorced when he was 5 years outdated, successfully turning his mom right into a single mother. “The cash was not there,” he says.

“Are all of us going to die earlier than we’re performed? I don’t assume so.”

At age 19, after serving his obligatory navy service, Anttonen enrolled on the Helsinki College of Expertise, the place he majored in know-how and vitality research. Throughout his senior 12 months, he was recruited by the Finnish oil big Neste, and he started his profession as an vitality dealer in 1989. The job was easy: Anttonen purchased oil from European refineries, then bought it at a mark-up to Western markets like New York.

Slowly Anttonen climbed Neste’s ranks, however he chafed on the agency’s micro-management, together with a mandate that he rent staff solely from inside. “We couldn’t [find] proficient individuals,” he recounts, driving by way of the outskirts of Helsinki in his Audi A4, which runs on ethanol made out of the waste produced by locations like bakeries.   

He thought-about leaving Neste to strike out on his personal, however hesitated, fearful the thought was infeasible. Vitality buying and selling requires loads of start-up capital; to make cash, oil have to be purchased at big scale. However on the urging of a good friend, within the mid-Nineties Anttonen met with Swiss bankers from United Abroad Financial institution and requested for a credit score line he thought they might by no means approve: $100 million. The bankers mentioned sure. 

Utilizing that capital, in 1996 Anttonen joined a brand new agency referred to as Greenergy Baltic (he later modified the title to St1 and purchased out the agency’s unique shareholders). Inside just a few years, he was bored. “I began to understand how silly the oil buying and selling enterprise is. You’re shopping for cargo and promoting it at a costlier value. …It actually didn’t fulfill the that means of life.” He bought the buying and selling operation to Enron in 2000.

Anttonen calls the next years his “rising up course of,” when he began trying to find enterprise alternatives that may “make the world somewhat bit higher.” So started his local weather activism. Nonetheless, he continued investing in fossil fuels, buying a subsidiary of ExxonMobil in 2007, shopping for 565 fuel stations from Shell in 2010 and increasing St1’s oil refining enterprise. 

These exploits helped Anttonen fund his local weather moonshots, together with “Energy-to-X,” which would require monumental improvements to effectively seize and repurpose carbon. He admits that’s nonetheless a good distance off. “To develop the tools [for carbon recycling], I might say ten, 15 years,” he says. “Then to scale it out, that may take 30 to 50 years.” 

The issue, in fact, is we could not have that a lot time. Many scientists assume the planet will heat to harmful ranges as soon as 2030. “We’d lose loads of meals manufacturing. We’d have casualties due to that. We’d have [climate] wars,” Anttonen admits. “Are all of us going to die earlier than we’re performed? I don’t assume so.” Then, as if to guarantee himself, he repeats, “I don’t assume so.”


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