Solutions for tomorrow’s cities are taking shape in Finland
Once completed, Jätkäsaari – a district of Helsinki that has become a testing ground for new mobility and smart transport solutions – will provide homes for 21 000 residents and jobs for 6 000 people.Kari Ylitalo / Helsinki Partners
Finnish companies are laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s cities with products ranging from low-carbon construction materials and smart building and mobility solutions to tools that enable better response to catastrophes such as floods.
Finland’s Betolar and EcoFurn rolled out the world’s first low-carbon concrete products under the brand EcoRocky at Spring Fair in Helsinki on 7–10 April. The light industry products, including concrete blocks used for traffic control, are made from Geoprime, a sustainable alternative to cement developed and trademarked by Betolar.
Hannu Lehtonen, co-founder of EcoFurn, said the Finnish specialist in ecological products can use the material innovation to venture into a segment it previously believed was “out of question” due to the considerable climate impact of concrete.
“But Betolar’s Geoprime has now opened up new development opportunities for concrete products,” he stated.
The material can be used to produce a range of low-carbon concrete structures and products needed in urban infrastructure construction to help cities to achieve their emission reduction targets, according to Juha Leppänen, chief innovation officer at Betolar.
The EcoRocky products are manufactured by a third Finnish company, JA-KO Betoni, in Kokkola, Central Ostrobothnia.
The need for ideas that reduce the environmental impact for concrete is dire. Concrete is currently used at a rate of 30 billion tonnes a year – making it the most widely used substance on the planet after water – and the demand for it is growing more rapidly than that for steel or wood, according to Nature.
Its carbon footprint is colossal, with at least eight per cent of global human-induced emissions attributable to cement production. Cement is produced by grinding raw materials, including clay and calcium carbonate, to a fine powder and heating the powder in a kiln to temperatures as high as 1 450 Celsius.
For every tonne of cement, up to 622 kilos of carbon dioxide is emitted, reveals a study conducted by Imperial London College.
“The concrete industry must take responsibility for CO2 emissions and bring new solutions to both consumers and infrastructure construction companies,” underscored Jaakko Eloranta, CEO of JA-KO Betoni.
Betolar, EcoFurn and JA-KO Betoni are not the only Finnish companies developing tools that help the construction industry to rein in its emissions. AISTI on 22 April reported that it has secured 1.6 million euros for the development of its sustainable acoustic tiles, a product the startup believes has the potential to revolutionise the industry.
The funding was provided by a group of investors assembled by Valve Ventures.
The Jyväskylä-based startup is developing wood-based acoustic tiles that are carbon negative, easy to recycle and plastic free to offer the industry an opportunity to make greener choices. They not only reduce the carbon footprint of construction without any impact on costs, but also cause no irritation during installation or use.
The demo tiles have been well received by developers and constructors, according to the startup.
“Our goal is to rise alongside the world’s largest acoustic tile manufacturers by offering sustainable products for the needs of today’s construction,” outlined Mikko Paananen, chief executive of AISTI.
Streamlining the workplace
Haltian, a developer of connected services based in Oulu, in April announced it has raised 6.6 million euros in equity funding in a round backed by investors including Finnish Industry Investment (Tesi), Inventure, Nordic Option, and Ventíc.
The startup revealed it intends to use the funding to accelerate its growth by means of talent acquisition and product-range expansion, and to explore new markets in North America.
Haltian also reported that its revenue surged by 71 per cent year-on-year from 9 to 15.5 million euros in 2021. The growth was driven especially by the smart buildings and facilities segment, where the startup offers a digital twin solution called Emphatic Building and a hardware suite called Thingsee.
CEO Pasi Leipälä stated that the jump in revenue is a remarkable accomplishment in light of the global component shortage and other challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It shows that we have made correct decisions in developing our offering,” he said, adding that he expects the growth to continue as smart solutions for the built environment become an essential part of operations for more and more companies. Demand for IoT solutions has already risen as a consequence of the worldwide shift toward hybrid ways of working.
Leipälä also highlighted that the startup increased its headcount by 30 to 130 in 2021.
Emphatic Building is designed to improve the employee experience in offices and hospitals by simplifying everyday tasks and helping them to find the right colleagues, equipment and workspaces, to share information, and to express their feelings. The data produced by the solution also enables the employer to make more data-driven decisions on, for example, how to utilise its space and boost productivity.
Haltian in March reported that Milton Keynes University Hospital has begun piloting the solution in the UK.
“This data will allow us to make more informed decisions for the way that we work, ensuring that we have the right people and solutions in place at the right time,” viewed Claire Orchard, digital and information manager at Milton Keynes University Hospital.
“The data that we collect will be significant as we look to introduce new systems, initiatives and ways of working so that we can continue to provide the best clinical service possible, with patient safety and experience at the core.”
New partnerships in mobility space
Kempower and Virta in April revealed they have entered into a partnership to boost the availability of fast-charging services to electric vehicle owners across Europe. Virta, a Helsinki-based developer of a smart charging platform, will bring the rapid chargers of Kempower to its customers in Europe, starting with Finland, Sweden, France, Germany and the UK.
More than a thousand clients in over 30 countries run their charging services on the platform of Virta, making it one of the largest networks in Europe.
Jussi Palola, CEO of Virta, said the combination will provide charging hub operators unique flexibility and scalability, enabling the fast launch of operations and easy expansion of charging capacity in future.
“European EV sales growth calls urgently for more extensive fast-charging services and, with this collaboration, we’re ready to answer the challenge,” he stated.
Kempower CEO Tomi Ristimäki said the Lahti-based company is excited to bring its “scalable, modular and user-friendly” fast-charging solutions to motorists across the continent through a partnership with another Finnish company.
MarshallAI and Dynniq Finland in March reported that they have moved on to the third and final phase of a project launched to harness artificial intelligence to tackle mobility and energy challenges in major cities in Europe.
The prototype yielded by the project, they said, has been selected for the final phase of AI4Cities, a sustainable city project funded by the EU. Called Ix3, the solution will be tested on a larger scale over a six-month period with a view to duplicating the drop in emissions it brought about in previous phases at four intersections in Helsinki and Paris.
The solution promises to cut emissions from road traffic by shortening the green phase of traffic lights to reduce the number of vehicle stops, a major cause of carbon-dioxide emissions in urban areas. Data collected during the second phase of the project indicates that it has the potential to cut emissions by as much as eight per cent without any negative impact on any road users.
“In other words, traffic can be optimised by eliminating the dead seconds when no one is moving at an intersection without jeopardising traffic safety,” reads a release put out by MarshallAI.
Re-thinking and re-configuring urban activities is critical for the effort to combat the climate crisis. UN-Habitat has estimated that cities consume nearly four-fifths of the world’s energy and produce more than three-fifths of greenhouse gas emissions, despite accounting for only two per cent of earth and 55 per cent of the global population.
Urban Tech Helsinki in April announced its second intake of startups pursuing clean and sustainable urban solutions, raising the number of startups from 13 to 24. Two startups from its first intake have recently reported developments.
Greenele, a Helsinki-based provider of electric vehicle charging solutions for residential buildings, reported it aims to install 100 of its charging points by year-end to speed up the growth of electric transport. The points are unique in that they combine type-2 charging technology with a power output of 3.7 kilowatts and offer features such as billing, metering and load balancing.
Bird’s eye view of floods
Espoo-based ICEYE in April told that it has signed an agreement to incorporate its satellite imagery-based insights on large-scale floods into the catastrophe risk management platform of EigenRisk, a software company headquartered in Michigan, the US.
The high-resolution imagery generated by the space technology company’s constellation of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites can be combined with auxiliary data sources to produce unique flood observation data – including flood footprints and depth measurements at the level of individual buildings – anywhere in the world, in any weather and nearly in real time.
Deepak Badoni, president of EigenRisk, said the data that enables the company to rapidly evaluate inland or coastal flood footprints anywhere in the world.
“With the impact of global climate change, flood exposures now pose more significant threats than ever to businesses, communities and government entities in all areas of the world, and difficult challenges for commercial and residential insurers, and reinsurance companies,” he commented.
ICEYE utilises its constellation – the largest of its kind in the world – to enable objective data-driven decisions in sectors such as insurance, catastrophe response and recovery, and security and territorial monitoring.