The whole country could be entirely energy self-sufficient. This is what Pekka Peura, Doctor of Philosophy from the Levón Institute at the University of Vaasa, discovered in his study. Efficient use of renewable energy resources and raw materials sourced from the countryside would practically remove the need for fossil fuels entirely.
“We easily have enough resources for energy self-sufficiency, just the work remains to be done. But the change from the current fossil energy supply to sustainable energy management will be a lengthy social process,” Peura says.
However, the global mindset is changing. For the first time in history, the world’s countries reached an agreement at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in 2015. Their joint direction is a low-carbon and energy-efficient earth which will rely as much as possible on renewable natural resources. It has been said that the next wave for the global economy will be bioeconomy, which utilises natural renewable biological resources for the production of food, energy, products and services. In other words, the bioeconomy encompasses forestry, the energy sector, the chemicals industry and the resources and services that nature offers.
“The bioeconomy combines both the needs of society’s growth and employment and sustainable solutions for global problems,” says Programme Director Jussi Manninen from the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy, one of the compilers of the Finnish bioeconomy strategy.
The bioeconomy is a fairly new and trendy concept, although it has been a routine practice in Finland for a long time.
Most of the country is covered in forest, and sustainable forestry goes back several centuries. Manninen states that it is these long forestry traditions that have put Finland ahead in terms of bioeconomy, while the rest of the world is only just waking up to this idea. The pulp industry has long been making good use of forests in Finland, but today wood is utilised in a more diverse and innovative way than ever before.
“Over the years, we have developed forest know-how, technologies and solutions that are unique in the world. I would go as far as to say that we Finns are the best in the world at making the most of wood,” he says.
“I would go as far as to say that we Finns are the best in the world at making the most of wood”
The digitalisation of society caused paper manufacture to crash and this was, of course, also a blow to the forest industry. The growth of environmental consciousness and the bioeconomy, however, have breathed new life into the use of wood in Finland and made it more popular than ever. Biomass power plants, sawmills, biorefineries and pulp mills are being built all over the country and existing ones are being improved for more efficient production. The National Forest Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry aspires to increase the use of wood considerably. Even with increased use, wood is a sustainable material, and there are more healthy forests growing in the country than can be consumed.
In addition to traditional uses like energy and paper production, new innovative uses are being created for wood biomass. Finnish inventions made from biomass include, for example, textile fibres, medicines, smart packaging, bio-oil and composite materials incorporating wood. Wood residues are efficiently utilised as energy and are also made into new products more and more. One of the most original Finnish woody innovations is a timber-based renewable diesel, which is manufactured from residues in the world’s first biorefinery, located in Finland. Manninen mentions another important, fresh bioeconomy innovation: yarn made from pulp. It is expected to transform the textile and forest industry worldwide.
“This yarn will be able to replace cotton, whose cultivation exploits groundwater resources and land areas that could be better utilised to produce food. In short, great growth is expected for many bioeconomy innovations from Finland.”
In Ostrobothnia, bioeconomy stands first and foremost for decentralised energy production and advanced innovative energy self-sufficiency. The area is also a hub of agricultural primary production.
Jakobstad is the global pioneer in bioeconomy
The Jakobstad region is a global forerunner of bioenergy production. Founded in the UPM-Kymmene Corporation’s industrial area in the early 2000s, the biomass power plant Alholmens Kraft is still one of the largest in the world. It produces electricity, process steam and district heating for industry and consumers. The plant is extremely flexible in the use of fuels and can run on almost all solid biofuels. Its main energy sources are forest fuel and peat from the surrounding country and bark from the industrial area.
In 2004, UPM Pietarsaari’s pulp mill in the same area acquired the largest recovery boiler in the world to allow it to produce the energy it requires by burning its own pulp residue. This investment makes it one of the most modern pulp mills in the world.
In Jakobstad, the Jepua biogas plant’s raw materials consist of the organic waste from the region’s agriculture and industry. The plant turns them into energy, fertilisers and fuel for transport.
Vaasa region utilises waste and biomass in an innovative way
The Vaasa region is home to one of the country’s first waste management companies, which is beginning to refine biowaste into fuel for transport. Stormossen produces biogas by decomposing the region’s organic waste and the sludge received from a wastewater purification plant. The biogas is refined for transport use, and the first vehicles to use it will be the city’s local buses.
The Westenergy incineration plant, on the other hand, burns the region’s waste that can’t be utilised in any other way and turns it into energy. The steam produced at the incineration plant is utilised for the production of electricity and district heating.
Biomass is turned into energy also in Vaasa. The combined heat and power plant, Vaskiluodon Voima, has a progressive biomass gasification plant built next to it, the first of its kind in the world. It substitutes domestic biofuels for coal, reducing carbon dioxide emissions substantially. At a low output, this power plant can also be used entirely without coal.
Kokkola region prides itself on its cluster of natural resources
In the Kokkola region’s bioeconomy, agricultural primary production, the chemicals industry and the energy sector are all interlocked. The Central Ostrobothnia region, known as Biovalley, is the heartland of business and expertise in the natural resources sector. The share of primary production in the Biovalley’s economic structure is considerably higher than in the rest of the country. The area is currently producing up to a fifth of the milk, potatoes, pork and beef consumed in the country, and a large proportion of the products made are also processed in the region. The town of Kokkola itself is the largest dairy producer in the country. The development of the natural resources sector is also supported by the agriculture and forestry research organisations concentrated in the region. Kokkola is also home to an internationally substantial chemicals industry cluster, which may in future refine bioeconomy innovations for the global market.