Retiring Professor Ari Jokilaakso: "Metallurgy is a hot topic"
Professor of Metallurgy Ari Jokilaakso, who has built a distinguished career, retired at the end of 2023. Jokilaakso began his studies in Otaniemi in 1980, after which life took him to work as a researcher and eventually back to Otaniemi as a professor. It wasn’t a straightforward path, and there were coincidences along the way.
"I started my studies in Otaniemi in 1980, and I chose metallurgy a little bit according to where I could get accepted with my grades. I have been very happy with my choice, as I have found an interesting career with a variety of tasks. After my studies, I spent just under 20 years in Otaniemi in research. From there I went into industry, to Outokumpu. Already in the 1990s, I had the urge to become a professor, and in 2016, through various coincidences, the opportunity opened up and I was selected. Now I have accumulated seven years at Aalto in metallurgy," Jokilaakso says of his background.
Technologies exists, but consumption is increasing
Although the choice of the study track proved to be a worthwhile one, the sector has also experienced difficulties. "In the 1990s, there was a worldwide movement to end metallurgy, and many universities gave up research in metallurgy. At the time, everyone was crazy about new materials. Now, in the last five to ten years, the demand for metals has far surmounted the capacity to produce them, and metallurgical research has taken centre stage again. More and more metals have to be recovered from ever poorer starting materials. This is why metallurgical research is currently in the spotlight. It is a very active and hot topic," says Jokilaakso, recalling the history and current state of his field.
When talking about the future and the green transition, Ari Jokilaakso sees both opportunities and difficulties. He is a technology enthusiast and feels that the technologies to make the green transition happen already exist. "I'm pessimistic because, in order to solve the problem, humanity would have to reduce its energy consumption," he says, laughing: "And how easy is it to get people to reduce their consumption? There is a huge number of people who have been below the poverty line and are now slowly becoming middle class. They have enough disposable wealth to consume more and more, and of course they want to get into the kind of standard of living that America and the West have enjoyed for decades. So there will be enormous pressure to increase consumption. At the same time, in order to have enough metals for the green transition, consumption would have to be reduced," Jokilaakso says, reflecting on the concrete challenges of the green transition.
But the solution is to find more solutions. Riding on one horse will not solve the problem.
In addition, the debate around future solutions and the green transition is plagued by black and white thinking, according to Jokilaakso. "At the moment, there is a strong perception that transport must be electrified and electricity generation must go to renewable energy sources. But the solution is to find more solutions. Riding on one horse will not solve the problem. Abandoning all fossil fuels is in no way realistic." As a concrete example, Jokilaakso says that it would take the equivalent of 16 000 years of production of lithium to phase out fossil fuels. "It is absurd to think that all fossil fuels could suddenly be phased out, even in 100 years. There are many ways and one of them is to slow down the phase-out, increase nuclear power, and at the same time try to develop technologies to use less energy. If we cannot reduce the energy consumption of consumers, then we need to make the technology used to make consumer goods less energy consuming. "
Collaborating in research
When Ari Jokilaakso reflects on his career, it is easy to think of people with whom working has been particularly important. "Emeritus Professor Pekka Taskinen is a metallurgical guru. He has experience in various experimental techniques, theories and chemistry of metallurgical processes. He has been an invaluable support for us younger people, Professor Daniel Lindberg and I." Among colleagues who stand out in his mind, Jokilaakso also mentions Mari Lundström and her BATCircle ecosystem and Rodrigo Serna. "We have a family of metallurgists with whom it has been very good to work together on the interfaces. This is also a niche area in the sense that everyone knows each other, and Finland has a very strong metalworking ecosystem."
Jokilaakso is positive about his retirement. He plans to focus on many of the hobbies that have previously given way to work. "With my wife, I will continue my ballet hobby, and I will also be able to go roller-skating when the weather is right, instead of when I happen to have time from work. The last few decades I have also had time to read fiction and biographies only occassionnally. Now I think I'm going to take some of that time back, because there are so many books to read that I'm going to enjoy them. And exercise. My own physical and mental well-being, that's where my full focus is now. So many decades have been spent working, it's time to change that and spend some quality time with hobbies and my wife."