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Finnish low-carbon solutions aid push for carbon neutrality

Norsepower’s patented rotor-sail technology has been shown to create average fuel savings of 5–25 per cent on vessels ranging from bunkers, ferries, tankers and roll-on, roll-off ships.

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Finland has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative by 2040. We take a look at how the country is developing green innovations to achieve these ambitious goals.

Finland has inscribed its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 – one of the most ambitious such targets in the world – in law for the first time ever in the Climate Change Act that is entering into force on 1 July 2022.

The Act prescribes that emissions should be reduced relative to the levels of 1990 by 60 per cent by 2030, 80 per cent by 2040 and at least 90 per cent by 2050. It also extends to cover the land use, land-use change and forestry sector, and sets forth the objective of reinforcing carbon sinks for the first time ever.

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Maria Ohisalo, described the Act as “vital” for Finland. Image: Maria Ohisalo / Facebook

“The Act shows the world how we can [build] a carbon-neutral welfare state by 2035. It is also a strong signal for companies that in Finland clean solutions are well worth investing in,” commented the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Maria Ohisalo.

“Including land use in the Climate Change Act is a significant improvement. We have a lot of opportunities to reduce emissions and strengthen carbon sinks in the land use sector – in forests, construction and agriculture,” she continued.

One Finnish company working on ways to lessen the environmental burden of construction – specifically concrete production – is Caidio.

The Espoo-based startup has secured 1.5 million US dollars in seed funding from a group of investors including the venture arm of the Asian Development Bank, ADB Ventures.

Caido has developed an artificial intelligence-based tool for providing real-time insights into the quality properties of concrete during production to not only improve the quality of the end product, but also enable greener and more effective production. The solution has resulted in reductions in carbon dioxide emissions and raw material use in pilots carried out at several production facilities in China.

Concrete has an enormous carbon footprint due to its main ingredient, cement. Image: Rodolfo Quirós / Pexels

The plan is now to release a suite of new digital products that analyse the core properties of concrete during production.

Aku Wilenius, CEO of Caidio, said the digital quality assurance solutions can help to save up to six billion US dollars annually in cement usage and reduce millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide in Asia.

“Cement production alone accounts for over 14 per cent of total carbon emissions in the People’s Republic of China, the world’s largest cement producer,” toldQiyong Cao, senior investment specialist at ADB Ventures. “We believe Caidio’s technology will bring tremendous economic benefits to their clients and enable the industry to become greener and greater.”

Another Finnish company looking to put a lid on emissions in Asia is Norsepower. The Helsinki-based provider of wind propulsion technologies is poised to ramp up the production of its rotor sails in China after inking a loan agreement with the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (Nefco).

The company’s patented rotor-sail technology has been shown to create average fuel savings of 5–25 per cent on vessels ranging from bunkers, ferries, tankers and roll-on, roll-off ships.

Norsepower’s rotor sail technology reduces fuel consumption, fuel costs and emissions across a variety of vessel types, both old and new. Image: Norsepower

The rotor sails make it possible to throttle back the main, typically fossil fuel-powered, engines of vessels without compromising on speed or journey time. Each rotor sail typically yields fuel savings of 300 tonnes and cuts carbon dioxide emissions by 900 tonnes a year, according to the company.

Tuomas Riski, CEO of Norsepower, highlighted that the technology enables ship owners to improve their performance on the criteria to be adopted by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) in 2023: the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) and Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI).

“Our mission is to reduce the environmental impact of shipping through the commercialisation of innovative modern sail power,” he declared.

“Norsepower’s modern sail technology is fascinating,” attested Helena Lähteenmäki, investment director at Nefco. “It offers one solution for the shipping industry that faces increasing cost and environmental constraints.”

Net negative by 2040

Finland’s upcoming Climate Change Act consists of four policy plans: the medium-term climate change policy plan, the national climate change adaptation plan, the long-term climate change policy plan and the climate change plan for the land-use sector. The Act outlines that in addition to carbon neutrality by 2035, the country should strive to become net negative only five years later.

Finnish efforts to fight climate change have previously relied predominantly on the ability of forests to sequester and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The premise, however, was thrown into doubt recently with the release of preliminary statistics indicating that land use became a source of emissions, rather than a carbon sink, for the first time ever in 2021.

The Finnish effort to become carbon neutral has long been built on the ability of forests to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere. Image: Oliver Darny / Pexels

With emissions from the sector remaining at the level of the previous year, the unexpected change was attributed to the contraction of the carbon sink in forests caused by high volumes of felling, on the one hand, and the declining trend of the annual increment in growing stock, on the other.

The need for both policy actions and investments in green technologies is therefore ever more urgent.

As Ohisalo acknowledged, funding is key in the equation. Taaleri in June reported that its first bioindustry fund reached its target size of 80 million euros in the first funding round with the help of a 10 million-euro injection from the Finnish Climate Fund, a special purpose company owned by the Finnish Government.

The fund is a so-called dark green fund that makes investments exclusively in industrial-scale companies and production facilities developing products such as organic fertilisers, functional biomaterials and recycled fibres and other materials.

“Our bioindustry team has been building the project pipeline for more than a year, so we are ready to start investing immediately after the first closing,” saidTero Saarno, head of Taaleri Bioindustry.

Industry heavyweights weigh in

Green solutions have been produced by both startups relying on external funding and industry heavyweights leveraging their vast resources, such as Neste and Wärtsilä.

Neste in June announced it has utilised two existing pipelines to deliver its sustainable aviation fuel to LaGuardia Airport in New York, the US. The delivery, it said, represents a “seminal moment” in the development and distribution of sustainable jet fuel in the country partly by showing that the fuel can be delivered through pipelines carrying fossil jet fuel.

The low-emission fuel will be used to power a flight operated by Delta Air.

Sustainable aviation fuel is the most effective way to decarbonise the aviation industry, according to Pamela Fletcher, chief sustainability officer at Delta Air.

“These efforts show how existing infrastructure can be used to transport [sustainable aviation fuel] to East Coast airports and drive down emissions – a critical step as we move toward a more sustainable future for air travel,” she argued.

Sustainable aviation fuel is the currently best option available for decarbonising the aviation industry, believes the head of sustainability at Delta Air, one of the largest airlines in the US. Image: Neste

The delivery and flight are supported by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the first US port authority to embrace the Paris Agreement.

“Increasing and accelerating the use of sustainable aviation fuel is a key strategic element if we are to decarbonise air travel, and the port authority is committed to supporting our airline partners in this transition,” viewed Rick Cotton, executive director at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“If we are to achieve a net-zero future, it is imperative that we collectively take action to enable a transition to sustainable aviation fuel.”

Neste states that its sustainable jet fuel is a direct replacement to traditional jet fuel, subject to blending limitations. Made from renewable waste, residues and other biomass, it has the potential to generate up to 80 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional jet fuel, according to the company.

In the US, aviation is responsible for over 2.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and 9.0 per cent of emissions from the broader transport sector.

Wärtsilä, in turn, revealed it has agreed to supply its biogas upgrading plant for a mill project undertaken in the UK by Ecotricity, a green energy company operating in the UK.

The mill has been designed to turn grass into carbon-neutral gas that can be used to heat homes. The process consists of three steps: breaking down grass in a silage container for roughly two months, feeding it into a digester where it gives off a methane-rich gas and refining the gas at the upgrading plant before feeding it into the gas grid.

Once operational, the mill will be the first of its kind in the UK.

“Replacing fossil fuels with grass-fed gas provides significant green-energy benefits,” statedChris Ives of Paul Winter Consulting, the consulting engineer managing the project. “Importantly, existing gas boilers installed in homes all around Britain can still be used, but in a much more sustainable way.”

Ecotricity has also laid down plans to build “many more” green gas mills in the future, having calculated that 3 000 installations would provide enough gas to fuel all 22 million homes that are currently connected to the gas grid in the UK.

Green grass is carbon neutral because it only releases the carbon dioxide it has absorbed while growing during the burning of methane.

By: Aleksi Teivainen