In a low carbon society, focus turns to renewable source of bio-based raw materials and products. Similarly, humanity is seeking sustainable alternatives to plastic. As we cut our dependency to oil-based solutions, bio-based is becoming the new normal.
Driving the change is the sobering realization that consumption patterns are in urgent need of change around the planet – and wood-based solutions offer truly climate-friendly, sustainable options.
Juha Peltomäki, Head of industry, Bio & Circular Economy at Invest in Finland, points out that consumers are now making their voices heard globally, demanding more sustainable choices from their favorite brands.
"This means that the world's leading brands are making their value chains more low carbon, transitioning away from fossils. For biomaterials, this shift will have a huge impact in the future," Peltomäki says.
The forest-loving Finns have been referring to their forests as "green gold" for centuries – and they may well be onto something there. Today, biomaterials represent a tremendous game-changer: wood-based products, ranging from microscopic nanocellulose to massive construction elements, are laying the foundation for the new sustainable economy.
In the carbon-neutral future, we will wear textiles derived from wood fibre, eat and drink from fossil-free containers and power our vehicles with bio-based fuels and biocarbon-based batteries. Biomaterials will be used in the cosmetics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, electronics, food...and the list keeps growing.
"The key issue lies in embracing a comprehensive mindset: you have to look at all the side streams in forestry and explore the business opportunities therein. New technologies are helping us achieve this," Peltomäki says.
Juha Peltomäki says that Finland has "truly world-class" know-how in innovative bio-based products and technologies. Starting with extensive experience and competence in sustainable forest management, Finns also possess extensive forest resource information produced by national forest inventories.
"In addition to taking care of our green assets, we have well-established collaboration models in research, development and innovation between academia and industry. There's an open ecosystem, welcoming also foreign companies, in place which covers the whole sector, delivering new innovations via quality research," Peltomäki says.
"Looking at the development of innovative biomaterials, Finland is right there at the top," he adds.
Finnish biomaterials feature a fully digitized value chain which includes virtual reality-based forest management, predictive production process optimization for raw material efficiency and IoT-connected products.
"Boosting that value chain, we have a proud tradition of world-leading education and research in forest-based industries, with several frontrunner companies," Peltomäki says, adding that vibrant new business models, based on renewable raw material and circular business models, keep emerging from the ecosystem.
For example, Stora Enso's Biomaterials division has developed a strong business portfolio for lignin, regenerated cellulose in textiles and biobased chemicals. In fact, Stora Enso counts biomaterials innovations as one of its key strategic focus areas, with a particular focus on lignin and targeting strong growth in new applications and markets.
Presently, the company is building a pilot facility at its Sunila Mill in Finland to produce bio-based carbon materials based on lignin. Wood-based carbon can be utilized as a crucial component in the batteries typically used in consumer electronics, the automotive industry and large-scale energy storage systems.
Another big forest player, UPM, is championing wood-based UPM BioVerno diesel, a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels in transport. Made from tall oil – a residue material from pulp making – UPM BioVerno is a fully renewable diesel. And unlike first-generation biofuels, it does not compete with food production.
Peltomäki points out that these two examples represent only the tip of the iceberg in the Finnish biomaterials scene: there are many other innovations, too, and several new breakthroughs on the way.
"Right now, various actors in Finland are really engaged in pushing the field forward and finding the right solutions to the environmental challenges of our times," he sums up.
Head of Bio & Circular Economy, Invest in Finland
juha.peltomaki (at) businessfinland.fi
+358 40 343 3304