Finland Rises up from Its Economic Crisis with Bioeconomy
by Aino Siirala* (Advanced Biofuels USA) Finland is a forerunner in bioeconomy and biotechnology, states Asko Ojaniemi, the executive director of Benet Oy. The bioeconomy seminar held recently in Helsinki, Finland and organized by Benet Oy, covered extensively the future of the bioeconomy in Finland. However, according to Ojaniemi, the Finnish bioeconomy has moved down on the European scale, possibly just because bioeconomies in many other European countries have increased.
Bioeconomy refers to the utilization of renewable natural resources. It is sustainable management and utilization of biomass; products and services from forest and food production, for example.
The seminar started by reviewing the bioeconomic strategies of Europe and Finland, which seemed to have rather similar contents. Both strategies were targeting, for instance, creating new business activity and increasing employment by developing products and services based on renewable natural resources. Liisa Saarenmaa, the deputy head of a department in the Finnish ministry of agriculture and forestry, noted that the bioeconomy strategy of Finland is its growth strategy. Bioeconomy is a way to raise Finland from its economic crisis.
After the first half of the seminar I sensed many were concerned that the strategy of Finland will remain “just talk.” Now, after completing the strategy, is the time to take concrete steps. Are there enough small and medium-sized companies with the courage to take risks? Will they get investments and are they able to penetrate the jungle of licenses?
This fear was also brought up in the comment speech of Juha Sipilä, the chairman of the Centre Party. Many also noted that Finland invests in research but is lacking business spirit. When compared to the more demonstration-oriented USA, this seems to be a problem in many parts of Europe.
As the food industry is a part of the bioeconomy, we heard an interesting presentation of how bioeconomy will change the food industry. Anu Kaukovirta-Norja a Vice President in Biotechnology in VTT, pointed out that for a consumer the change means more local, healthier and more natural food. The utilization of raw material will change; we will have to decrease meat consumption which leads to the need for new innovations in vegetable-based products. Biomass and agricultural land will be used increasingly for other purposes than food, such as biofuels. Food will also be less processed to save energy and water.
Liisa Rohweder, General Secretary of WWF, reminded us to consider the sustainability aspect while growing the bioeconomy. As we are already consuming the resources of the globe 1.5 times of its carrying capacity, we must not increase the consumption of natural resources but be more resource-efficient. We need to utilize side streams more and make business out of it.
Forests and clean water are the greatest natural resources in Finland. It is natural to invest in the growth of bioeconomy in our forests.
UPM is a Finnish forest industry company producing pulp and paper which lately has invested in all encompassing utilization of wood. Stefan Sundman, a representative of UPM, presented a few innovative examples of how UPM makes business out of its side streams. This year they completed The Biofore Concept Car with Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. It is a car produced using UPM wood-based materials. This year they will also launch a biorefinery producing renewable diesel from crude tall oil, a side stream of pulp production.
Finland becoming a forerunner in bioeconomy is not an impossible idea. It is time for us to think more business-like and have the courage to try and demonstrate how it can work. It needs hard work to get the bioeconomy strategy into action but the future lies there.
*Aino Siirala studies civil and environmental engineering at Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. She volunteers as a reporter and writer for Advanced Biofuels USA to gain experience combining science and writing for a potential journalism career.