Research and piloting centre Bioruukki in Espoo, is an investment in the future of Finland. The centre is one of VTT’s most significant investments this decade, and the largest bioeconomy-related research environment in the Nordic countries.
Bioruukki enables studying and assessing both the technological and economic feasibility of biotechnological development concepts and ideas. This applies particularly to the development of production methods for biofuels and valuable chemicals. At the same time, Bioruukki provides companies with an opportunity to speed up the launching of innovations onto the global markets.
– Bioruukki promotes commercialisation and productisation of solutions based on bioeconomy and circular economy. The entire value chain from raw materials to final products can be piloted in the same environment, which combines biomass processing, thermochemistry and chemical synthesis with one another. In the future, also the storage of solar energy can be integrated with this entity, describes VTT Executive Vice President Kari Larjava on the significance of Bioruukki.
The markets are already there
– There was a clear order for this investment: the global goals of sustainable development and the associated regulatory framework in the EU and also elsewhere have created a need for products developed in Bioruukki. We have no other choice but to look for alternative power sources to replace fossil fuels. Markets for biofuels and other products based on bioeconomy enabling technologies have already been established, states Principal Scientist Yrjö Solantausta from VTT.
According to Solantausta, Bioruukki will raise VTT’s performance capability up to an entirely new level.
– This environment will open up new possibilities, because we now have more space. We have assembled gasification and pyrolysis research equipment here, which can be easily modified to accommodate any customer needs. Previously, the available space itself set a number of restrictions to potential technological solutions, but the new premises are flexible and suitable for the designed use. This is also a development environment for our customers. Here, they can demonstrate their solutions to their own customers. Smaller companies can use the premises even for production purposes, says Solantausta.
Tangible tool for promoting bioeconomy
Apart from symbolising faith in the future, the Bioruukki piloting environment is also a tangible proof of the efforts to create new business activities and opportunities on the basis of bio-based and circular economies.
– Bioeconomy based on sustainable use of renewable natural resources is a global trend. Finland is in good positions to benefit from such growth. Bioruukki has an important national mission to develop new technologies enabling bioeconomy based on forest biomass and to speed up commercialisation of such solutions together with enterprises. This is a bold investment, says Petri Peltonen, Head of the Enterprise and Innovation Department of Ministry of Employment and the Economy.
– Finland needs more high-tech investments and new competence and knowledge-intensive companies and jobs they help to generate. No new business activities or growth emerge without concrete demonstration. The investment made by VTT on the growth and development corridor along the West Metro in the Helsinki Metropolitan area is an excellent example of actions needed right now, says Mayor of Espoo City Jukka Mäkelä.
From idea to production through piloting
Valmet is a prime example of a business partner that has successfully utilised partnership with VTT in its technology development.
– Piloting is a necessary stage in any development project to proceed from ideas and laboratory research to demonstration trials and industrial-scale commercial production. Along the route, piloting equipment and installations of various sizes are required to validate the newly created technologies, describes Director, Technology and R&D Jussi Mäntyniemi of Valmet Sellu’s energy business line.
According to Mäntyniemi, Valmet’s current business operations provide a solid foundation for the development and production of products and solutions for bioeconomy. At Valmet, the starting point for development work is always based on customer needs, such as generation of new revenue flows or products from existing processes, further development of production plants already in operation, or commercialisation of entirely new solutions.
The prerequisites of any successful commercialisation process comprise the assessment of the business potential afforded by new products and solutions, and extensive and open collaboration with various actors, such as customers, other equipment manufacturers and research facilities, which, in turn, enables full utilisation of synergy benefits, as well as allocation of risks between the parties concerned. Public sector’s support has also a significant role, in the form of laws and regulations, education and funding, for example.
Jussi Mäntyniemi at Valmet believes that his company has a solid foundation for developing solutions for bioeconomy. Photo: Timo Kauppila
Collaboration delivers results
Biobased and circular economies have become global trends rather recently. VTT, however, has been engaged in development work in this field already for a long time, for example, in research focused on pyrolysis technologies. VTT conducted laboratory research on pyrolysis as early as in the 1980s, inspired by an American experiment.
– In the 1990s, the time was ripe for VTT and the major companies to undertake the first large-scale pyrolysis R&D projects. In 2007, VTT, Valmet and UPM established a technology development consortium for the development and commercialisation of pyrolysis technology. In 2009, Fortum joined in to the consortium, tells VTT Senior Advisor Kai Sipilä, who has been actively driving forward pyrolysis research since the beginning.
The development work resulted in the Fortum plant in Joensuu that produces bio-oil from wood-based raw material. The production of bio-oil integrated with the cogeneration installation generating both electrical and thermal energy is based on rapid pyrolysis technology patented by VTT. Currently, the quantity of bio-oil produced by the plant would suffice provide heating energy for 10,000 buildings in the cold Nordic climate.
–Bioruukki, together with its partner networks, provides good opportunities to hasten projects associated with bio-based economy, confirms CEO of the Finnish Bioeconomy Cluster FIBIC Christine Hagström-Näsi.
– Bioruukki will also serve the ends of FIBIC’s programme activities, when we define and create our enterprise-driven, tendered programmes that seek to meet long-term challenges. We can also apply for European Union funding now that we have all the appropriate facilities at our disposal. We are faced with global competition. It is vital that we can build a team of our own that will prevail. FIBIC is more than willing to build and coach such a team, outlines Hagström-Näsi.
A network of piloting environment in bioeconomy
VTT makes available to its customers and partners a comprehensive network of research environments of bioeconomy, circular economy and cleantech technologies. In the initial stage, VTT focuses on gasification and pyrolysis. In addition, VTT has testing equipment for biomass processing and fractionation at Otaniemi in Espoo. At Otaniemi, there is also a piloting environment for biotechnology and food technology, complete with fermentation and extraction installations, bioreactors and high-throughput screening robotics equipment. The process equipment for polymeric materials is located at Tampere and the piloting environment for fibre products at Jyväskylä.
VTT’s own resources are supplemented by the resources provided by the partners. The shared research environment for bioeconomy of VTT and Aalto University form the Finnish national-level research infrastructure whose activities comprise education and both fundamental and applied research, and spans the entire development spectrum from molecule-level cutting-edge research to process development and innovative technological solutions.
VTT operates in a close collaboration with its international partners. On a global scale, individual testing environments for bioeconomy, for example in Karlsruhe, Sweden, and in Holland supplement VTT’s own resources, but are not at the moment capable of offering a similar wholesome research environment. The services provided by VTT’s research unit in Brazil are also available.
VTT’s expertise in materials technology, process chemistry or, for example, in the utilisation and standardisation of digitalisation support also research projects associated with bio-based economy.
Industrial sectors approach each other
A fifth of Finnish exports consist of bulk products of the forestry industry, and in the future too, the reforming forest and chemical industries and related machine engineering will serve as drivers of export trade. The energy and food industries and agriculture will also rise by the side of the forestry industry, the main driving force of bioeconomy.
– In Finland, various consortia covering the entire value chain could be formed for the purposes of development activities. Once the roles have been clearly defined, no conflicts of interest will arise, and it will be easy to agree on IRP, for example, assesses Jussi Mäntyniemi the potential afforded by partnering and strategic partnerships.
– A frequently encountered problem hampering full-scale utilisation of biomass arises from the fact that such mass is dispersed across wide areas. In Finland, we have the advantage that, because of the pulp and paper industry, material is already concentrated to a few locations and the existing logistics will support also the new solutions. On the basis of the materials available in the coniferous forest zone, we have a natural competitive edge. In Finland, public-sector funding and the whole innovation system have provided the long-term support required for development work, says Solantausta as encouragement to process and product developers.
– Bioeconomy challenges the actors to adopt a new kind of thinking. In the future, bio economy will enforce different industry sectors to combine their efforts to locate new business opportunities in compliance with sustainable development, in such a way as never seen before. Now we need visionary innovative thinking, and utilising the potential inherent to the open innovation approach is of a great benefit in this context, says VTT Executive Vice President, Strategic Research Anne-Christine Ritschkoff.