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Finland has building blocks for circular economy

Finnish circular ideas are turning many industries on their head.

Mac Mullins / Pexels

From construction materials to textiles, a great many things have come full circle in Finland.

Betolar, a Finnish startup specialising in geopolymer-based carbon-neutral construction materials, in November reported that it has secured a capital loan worth seven million euros from the Finnish Climate Fund.

The loan was granted for the development of an artificial intelligence-powered platform designed to serve as a marketplace that brings together concrete product manufacturers and side stream suppliers, thereby supporting efforts to reduce emissions caused by the use of raw materials in construction.

The marketplace is a critical element of the artificial intelligence strategy of the materials technology startup, according to Matti Löppönen, CEO of Betolar.

“Our aim is to create a business ecosystem based on data generated from geopolymer technology to supplement our business model,” he revealed. “With the Finnish Climate Fund’s loan, we aim at enhancing our development work, thereby accelerating the positive climate impacts of our solutions globally.”

Paula Laine, CEO of the Finnish Climate Fund, pointed out that the platform is the first digital solution to receive an investment from the state-owned fund. The loan, she added, will be disbursed in three tranches contingent on achieving certain commercialisation milestones.

Betolar’s Geoprime is a sustainable alternative to cement, the most used building material in the world, that offers the same durability and rigidity on an 80-per cent smaller carbon footprint. Image: Maija Savolainen / Betolar

Geoprime, the flagship product of Betolar, is an alkali-activated material that can be mixed with waste from industries such as energy and mining to produce a substitute for cement in the production of concrete. While it delivers durability and strength that rival traditional cement-based construction materials, its carbon footprint is 80 per cent smaller.

The solution is available to clients under a material technology licensing model, making it extremely scalable as it utilises existing concrete production facilities.

It is used, for example, to cut carbon emissions at the lithium mine and quarry of Keliber in Kaustinen, Finland.

“We wanted to ensure well in advance that the environmental impact of our lithium mines will be as low as possible,” Hannu Hautala, CEO of Keliber, stated in September. “Our future side streams will not only be environmentally safe but will also enable the creation of new products and reduction of the use of virgin raw materials.”

Betolar also announced a partnership to bring its products to the construction market of India. The Kannonkoski, Central Finland-based startup will support the national push toward sustainable construction in collaboration with TARA, a sustainable housing company founded by co-chairperson of the UN Environment Programme’s International Resource Panel (UNEP-IPR) Ashok Khosla.

“The construction sector is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases,” highlighted Khosla.

“Geoprime offers a remarkably innovative, widely affordable solution for transforming the industry’s climate impact at the scale and with the speed now required to solve India’s massive housing and infrastructure needs in a socially equitable and environmentally sustainable manner.”

Representatives of Betolar and TARA shook hands to commemorate a partnership to facilitate sustainable construction in India. Image: Betolar

Juha Pinomaa, who heads the expansion of Betolar in Asia, said the continent is a key market for the solution because the licensing model makes it possible to lean on its vast size and complexity.

“We hope that by putting down roots here and using India as a kick-starter to other countries in Asia, we will be able to influence and accelerate positive change by working with major customers to deliver greater global impact,” commented Löppönen.

Betolar launched its initial public offering on Nasdaq First North Growth Market in November. The offering was suspended on grounds of being heavily oversubscribed on 3 December.

With the buildings and construction sector accounting for 36 per cent of final energy use and 37 per cent of process-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2020, many green-minded innovators have turned their attention to the sector.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland in October said it and its business partners have developed a solution that dramatically reduces emissions in the production of cement and quicklime. The solution, it told, relies on low-emission electricity instead of combustion for decomposing calcium carbonate – an integral phase of cement production – and captures the carbon dioxide released in the process, enabling cement plants to run without virtually any carbon dioxide emissions.

The production of cement and quicklime generates emissions for two reasons: the high process temperature and the carbonate contained in limestone.

By replacing combustion with electricity-based processes, the pure carbon dioxide created in limestone decomposition can be captured and either stored or utilised in the manufacture of low-emission products, explained Eemeli Tsupari, the principal scientist leading the project at VTT.

“There is already a market for carbon dioxide as a gas used in the production process, and a number of potential uses are being developed that would massively increase the scale of its use,” he said.

Moral fibres

Spinnova’s namesake biodegradable textile fibre has been used, among other things, in products designed for Team Finland for the 2022 Winter Olympics in China by Icepeak. Image: Spinnova

Another Finnish startup specialising in finding value in waste is Spinnova.

The Jyväskylä-based sustainable materials developer announced last November it is investing 2.2 million euros in its research and development capabilities by setting up an industrial-scale in-house yarn spinning facility. The facility, it envisioned, will streamline its textile development processes in the commercial phase by enabling the fast turnaround of product development projects with large numbers of brand partners.

“The close proximity of a spinning facility will make a huge difference in our commercial phase,” gauged CEO Janne Poranen. “We can make fast trials, not lose lead time and test smaller batches than before.”

The technology required for the facility will be supplied by the end of 2022 by Switzerland’s Rieter.

Spinnova has developed a technology for mechanically producing textile fibres from wood pulp and other waste, such as leather and agricultural side streams, with no harmful chemicals, minimal water and low carbon-dioxide emissions.

The company also announced its foray into the composites market through a partnership with Pusu, a Finnish developer of sustainable skis and snowboards. The fibre-based material will be laminated to the wood core of the products, replacing carbon and glass fibres. Initial results from “rigorous” tests suggest that skis reinforced with the material offer both a better skiing experience and long-lasting durability and performance.

“It has been clear to us since the beginning that our fibre can be used in multiple ways,” tells Juha Salmela, chief technology officer at Spinnova. Image: Spinnova

“It has been clear to us since the beginning that our fibre can be used in multiple ways,” toldJuha Salmela, CTO at Spinnova. “We expect to create sustainable skis without compromising excellent performance.”

Infinited Fiber Company is on a similar mission – to help the fashion industry shake off its vices, be it pollution, chemical use or water consumption.

The Espoo-based company in November said its patented biodegradable textile fibre, Infinna, will be incorporated into the future collections of Ganni, a responsible women’s clothing brand hailing from Denmark. The fibre is made from discarded cotton-rich textiles that would have been incinerated or dumped in landfills and contains no microplastics, making it suitable for several cycles of recycling.

“At Ganni we seriously believe that textiles are the new plastics so we need to go fully circular to survive long-term,” saidNicolaj Reffstrup, founder of Ganni. “Infinna is an exciting addition to our collections and takes us one step closer to creating more responsible collections. We need more transformative and innovative solutions like this, that increase the value of textile waste instead of the other way round.”

The first products borne out of the partnership are set for release in 2022.

Infinna has already featured in, for example, an award-winning denim collection by Wrangler.

Infinna, a biodegradable textile fibre patented by Espoo-based Infinited Fiber Company, has been featured not only in collections by Adidas and Wrangler, but also in non-woven wipes by Suominen. Image: Infinited Fiber Company

Also the fibre has applications beyond fashion. Infinited Fiber Company and Suominen, a globally leading supplier of non-wovens for wipes, announced earlier last autumn they have developed a non-woven sheet made from the regenerated fibre to offer a resource-efficient alternative to polyester and viscose-based single-use non-wovens.

Petri Alava, CEO of Infinited Fiber Company, said the end result of the collaborative effort demonstrates that the future can be more circular and sustainable also in the domain of non-wovens.

It’s a wrap

Finnish companies have developed circular solutions also in packaging.

Metgen in October was recognised by the European Commission for a solution that replaces petrochemical components in fibre-based packaging with bio-based ones to deliver a higher recycling rate. The Kaarina, Southwest Finland-based company was chosen as the winner from a group of 12 finalists, guaranteeing it not only the prize but also a 13.3 million-euro boost for its product development efforts from EU Horizon 2020.

Metsä Board in December announced it has delivered a paperboard-based packaging solution for La Ratte, a premium potato product by Finland’s Tuorekartano. The easily recyclable and biodegradable carton features a dispersion coating that improves its moisture and grease resistance.


The article was originally published in December 2021

By: Aleksi Teivainen