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Five From Finland

Circular economy solutions

Finnish innovations in the circular economy are raising interest globally.

Credits: : Julia Helminen

What goes around, comes around and this means big business opportunities in Finland.

Finland has been one of the most forward-looking countries in adopting the circular economy, creating the world’s first national circular economy roadmap for 2016–2025. Last year, Pirkanmaa and Uusimaa, the two most populous regions in Finland, were selected as pilot regions for the EU Circular Cities and Regions Initiative (CCRI).

The national and regional commitments have encouraged action in the private sector as well. Both big companies and startups have been speeding up the transition to a circular economy by developing innovative solutions.

With the approach of the World Circular Economy Forum, which will be held in Helsinki from 30 May to 2 June by Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra and Nordic Innovation, here are five of many areas in which Finns are doing great stuff when it comes to circularity.

1. Circular economy in daily life

Amerplast sees the future of plastic packaging in recyclability.

Amerplast

Tampere-based Amerplast has over 25 years of experience in utilising recycled raw materials for the manufacture of plastic products and packaging, including ESSI, the first Finnish circular bag produced from post-consumer plastic packaging waste. Last summer, the company joined the SPIRIT research and development programme. Aiming to drive change in the plastic industry, SPIRIT covers such areas as renewable feedstocks, circular plastics, carbon reduction and enablers for green transition.

In addition to plastic waste, food waste is a global problem with environmental, economic and social implications. Addressing the issue, Fiksuruoka sells surplus groceries through its online shop at high discounts.

“We promote the circular economy by making sure that products that have already added a burden to the climate and the environment by being manufactured do not end up as waste,” said CEO Juhani Järvensivu.

Having helped to reduce food waste by over eight million kilos in Finland, the company has expanded to Belgium and the Netherlands, where it’s known as Foodello.

2. Circularity in the forest industry

Innomost is committed to developing ways to use forest industry side streams for more high-value purposes than energy production.

Innomost

The Finnish forest industry has been among the most active players in implementing the circular economy. According to Metsä Fibre, the forest industry is based on circulation. Water, chemical and other resources circulate in the processes and all the side streams can be used efficiently. This core principle was highlighted with the start of a bioproduct mill in Äänekoski in 2017. The mill develops bioproducts such as product gas, sulphuric acid, biogas and biofuel pellets.

At the moment, Metsä Fibre is building a bioproduct mill in Kemi, scheduled to start up in the third quarter of 2023. Totalling 1.85 billion euros, the mill is the largest investment in the history of the Finnish forest industry. In addition to pulp and other bioproducts, it will produce two terawatt-hours of renewable electricity per year, which makes for about 2.5 percent of total Finnish electricity production.

Another exciting example is Green Fuel Nordic, a biorefining company that utilises renewable domestic forest biomass in the production of an advanced bio-oil. Developed as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels for energy production and transport, the oil is used, for example, at Fortum’s heating plant in Vermo, Espoo.

Elsewhere, Innomost has found its niche in producing high-value bioactive ingredients from forest industry side streams for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries, offering an alternative to microplastics, palm oil and other environmentally harmful raw materials. Last year, the Kokkola-based startup closed a one-million-euro funding round for its pilot production facility.

3. New life for batteries

Tracegrow’s “magic-sounding” technology turns used batteries into effective fertilisers.

Tracegrow

Finland is known as the only country in the world capable of managing the entire battery value chain, from mineral extraction to recycling, with many local companies offering their unique innovative solutions.

Fortum, for instance, is shaking up the value chain for industrial and electric vehicle batteries with a low-carbon dioxide recycling solution capable of utilising up to 80 per cent of batteries. This ensures that cobalt, lithium, nickel and other scarce metals are returned to circulation from end-of-life products.

Kärsämäki-based startup Tracegrow, in turn, has come up with a technology that separates micronutrients from used alkaline batteries and industrial side streams to produce highly effective fertilisers, certified for use in 15 countries.

Last year, Tracegrow received an investment from Nordic Foodtech VC. The investors took note of its potential to improve the sustainability of the agricultural sector and food supply system.

“Reuse of non-renewable natural resources is important for all of us,” commented Mika Kukkurainen, partner and co-founder of Nordic Foodtech VC. “Tracegrow´s magic-sounding technology enables a true circular economy and provides remarkable global potential.”

4. Waste to energy

The pilot running at Fortum’s waste-to-energy plant in Riihimäki last year proved that the CO2 emissions of waste incineration can be used to make new materials.

Fortum

Gasum is the biggest biogas producer in the Nordic countries, and its biogas plant in Riihimäki, the largest of its kind in Finland, serves as a good example of how biodegradable waste from food and other industries can be used for producing biogas. Some environmentally conscious companies have also switched to Gasum’s biogas for their production. The Helsinki Distilling Company has been using biogas made from its own production waste, while Marimekko is using biogas at its printing factory.

Elsewhere, Wärtsilä announced last June that it has agreed to supply its biogas upgrading plant for an innovative mill project in the UK. The mill has been designed to turn grass into carbon-neutral gas that can be used to heat homes.

Meanwhile, Fortum has an ambition to transform the waste-to-energy sector by capturing emissions from waste incineration and turning them into CO2-based, high-quality raw materials. Fortum’s Carbon2x concept, launched last year and piloted at its waste-to-energy plant in Riihimäki, received 1.5 million euros in funding from Business Finland.

The pilot stage was one of the first steps in testing how to utilise the CO2 emissions from our waste-to-energy plant in Riihimäki to produce new sustainable materials,” said Tony Rehn, Carbon2x programme director. “The next target is to use our own ‘home-grown’ methane as a feedstock for producing special plastics. The funding will support us in this work.”

5. Material innovation

Infinited Fiber Company’s technology turns textiles that would otherwise be landfilled or burned into a premium-quality, circular textile fibre.

Infinited Fiber Company

Finland has also a lot to offer in developing new sustainable materials. Interestingly, many of the innovators are spin-off startups from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, such as award-winning Paptic and Infinited Fiber Company. The former has invented a wood fibre-based material that has the properties of plastic, whereas the latter produces cotton-like textile fibres from waste materials and residual biomaterials.

With demand for its circular Infinna textile fibre skyrocketing among global fashion brands, Infinited Fiber Company is setting up a flagship factory in Kemi. The factory is expected to operate at full capacity in 2025, and commercial fibre deliveries are to start in early 2026.

Circularity is at the heart of our business,” highlighted Petri Alava, CEO and co-founder of Infinited Fiber Company. “Finland has solid bioeconomy know-how and is very supportive of circular economy innovations. We see these as major strengths that enable Finland to become a leader in the creation of the new, circular economy-based textile industry value chain.”

Another notable player in the field is Spinnova, a developer of climate positive wood- and waste-based textiles free of chemical solvents. The innovation has been well received by the likes of adidas, Marimekko, Bestseller and Halti.

Meanwhile, Sulapac has been revolutionising the beauty industry with its innovative biodegradable packaging material that offers all the benefits of plastic without containing any plastic.

Last, but certainly not least, even nutrition production can be more sustainable with novel innovation. Solar Foods has developed a new kind of protein out of air and is presently building its first hydrogen fermentation factory in Vantaa.

By: Zhanna Koiviola
23.01.2023