May 22, 2014

Bioeconomy – a potential driver of exponential growth

“The bioeconomy renews chemistry and chemistry renews the bioeconomy,” says doctor of Technology Maija Pohjakallio, who has studied the role of bioeconomy in the Finnish chemical industry.
“The bioeconomy renews chemistry and chemistry renews the bioeconomy,” says doctor of Technology Maija Pohjakallio, who has studied the role of bioeconomy in the Finnish chemical industry.

Finland is evolving into a major bioeconomy country. This development will gain momentum thanks to the bioeconomy strategy announced in May to increase the yield of Finland’s bioeconomy to 100 billion euros by 2025 and create 100 000 new jobs.

What is the bioeconomy?

The bioeconomy is part of the green economy. Its focus is on biological resources which are managed and used sustainably to produce goods, energy, food and services. The bioeconomy makes use of cleantech, that is to say clean technologies, and abides by the principle of the circular economy: “One person’s waste is another person’s resource”.

“The targets are ambitious, but realistic. We have long traditions and wide-ranging expertise in the field”, says Doctor of Technology Maija Pohjakallio from the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland. The strategy is a decision-in-principle that is binding “regardless of changes of government and prime minister.”

“Finland possesses the EU’s largest and the world’s fourth largest natural resources, in other words, reserves of biomass per capita, as well as top expertise in chemistry and biotechnology, among other fields, for making use of them. We had strong expertise even before people started talking about the bioeconomy.”

Co-operation an asset

Pohjakallio refers to Artturi Ilmari Virtanen, the Finnish chemist who received Nobel Prize in Chemistry for developing the AIV fodder preservation method and already back in the 1930s believed in the business opportunities of biochemistry and chemistry. According to Pohjakallio, Virtanen also understood that innovations are often generated at industry intersections.

“The smart and sustainable utilisation of biomass is impossible without chemistry expertise. Various chemical industry companies are involved in the biomass cycle from the manufacture of fertilisers needed for biomass cultivation all the way through to refining biowaste. Clean water is also linked to the bioeconomy, and in water chemistry,  we are one of the top countries worldwide,” Pohjakallio says.

“Forest, food and energy industry companies are also important players in the bioeconomy. Broad-based co-operation is the most efficient way to develop the bioeconomy, and we as a small country have the agility it requires. What we need now is even greater involvement of SMEs.”

No shortage of demand

Neste Oil is among the Finnish companies that have carried out investments to advance the bioeconomy. Neste Oil’s President and CEO Matti Lievonen at the inauguration of the company’s pilot plant for producing microbial oil.

Neste Oil is among the Finnish companies that have carried out investments to advance the bioeconomy. Neste Oil’s President and CEO Matti Lievonen at the inauguration of the company’s pilot plant for producing microbial oil.

Lehtikuva / Patricia Gabriel-Robez

One example that bears testimony to Finland’s early bioeconomy expertise is the various tall oil-based chemicals produced in the country since the 1940s. Another good example is xylitol, a sugar derived from birch and used as a sweetener. Its industrial-scale production got started in Finland in the 1970s.

“With the new wave, the proportion of bio-raw materials in chemical products will increase further. Vegetable oil-based raw materials are increasingly being used in paints, glues and rubber products, for example. In medicine, too, biotechnology is growing at a fast pace,” Pohjakallio says.

Today, more than a third of Finland’s chemical industry companies already use bio-based raw materials. The number one export product is renewable diesel manufactured mainly from waste oil, but that is just one example of the many bio-based best-sellers. A number of investments are also being planned in the industry to advance the bioeconomy. Among the examples of chemical industry investments in Finland, Pohjakallio cites Forchem, Neste Oil, Roal, St1 Biofuels and Berner.

“The bioeconomy currently accounts for around 16 per cent of the Finnish economy. According to forecasts, its proportion will increase to 50 per cent by 2040. Current focal areas in chemical industry companies include the utilisation of by-product flows and waste, the renewal of the raw materials base, the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

The bioeconomy is quickly imposing itself in a world where competition for raw materials is getting tougher and tougher. In 2030, the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion, which means that 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water will be needed compared to now.

Text: Sari Okko

Looking for more good news? Subscribe to our newsletter

Share