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Using personal know-how to promote the common good

Marjatta Pietilä | 13.6.2016

​Many VTT employees work with issues that affect the entirety of humankind. Although individual research scientists cannot change the world, they can contribute to the change. To find solutions, it is important to be able to see issues from new perspectives.

​Senior Scientist Tommi Ekholm’s research at VTT focuses on mitigating climate change and finding technological and economic solutions for promoting energy efficiency. His aim is to find the most cost-effective ways possible to mitigate climate change.

“Climate change mitigation is a major challenge for humankind. It requires changes to the way we produce energy and our consumption habits. The change will affect all economic structures. The big question is how this all can be managed. The necessary changes and their impacts need to be thought over periods of decades if not centuries. Extensive cooperation between different parties is also vital,” Ekholm explains.

“Our task is to formulate long-term scenarios that take into account factors such as economic growth patterns around the world, subsequent increase in energy consumption, and the future clean technologies that can enable economic growth without putting the environment at risk. We also produce computational estimates of how the choices of energy producers and consumers can be steered by different means, such as by energy taxation, emissions trading, and emissions caps.”

The research helps political decision-makers, public authorities and the industrial sector to make informed decisions. On an international level, peer-reviewed scientific findings are being pooled together by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Ekholm sees the recently adopted Paris Agreement as a historical step forward.

“This agreement has been signed by virtually all countries in the world. That is extremely significant from the perspective of the industrial competitiveness. The costs incurred from limiting emissions will no longer be a burden on pioneering countries alone, but will be divided more evenly.”

Ekholm enjoys working on these important issues. The scale of the field also makes his work interesting.

“It is important to be a generalist and be able to understand the combined effects of many different factors– how these issues tie in with the behaviour of normal consumers, the activities of businesses and states, and international politics. I get to work with a diverse group of actors such as researchers, businesses, public administrators, and non-governmental organisations. This gives perspective to many directions,” Ekholm says.

Enjoyment from research

Senior Scientist Outi Mäkinen specialises in the texture and stability of food products, especially in plant- and milk protein-based liquid and gel applications.

“At the moment, our team’s research focuses on harnessing new sources of protein for use by the world’s growing population. These sources of protein can be based on plants, algae or even single-celled organisms, such as Quorn, which can be found in the frozen foods aisle in supermarkets,” Mäkinen explains.

According to her, efforts are also being taken to make wider use of the protein content of food industry by-products to promote the circular economy. Examples of these kinds of sources of protein include wheat bran, brewers’ spent grain (BSG), and oilseed press cakes.

“There are plenty of challenges, as these proteins tend to be poorly soluble and therefore their functionality, i.e., gel forming capacity and interface characteristics, is considerably poorer than that of animal-based proteins. In other words, it is extremely difficult to turn them into enjoyable food products,” Mäkinen says.

“The best thing about working at VTT is the versatility of our in-house competence and customer projects. After years of university, it feels especially rewarding to know that my own know-how can help develop a solution for a customer.”

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From an idea to an innovation

Katri Kallio started in a new role as the manager of VTT’s strategy process in January. In her new position, she works in close co-operation with the President & CEO and supports the Executive Management Team. Her task is to draw up a strategy for the years 2016–2020.

Her work involves thinking up new ways to develop VTT into a competitive technology and science-based operator on the international market and thus a driver of sustainable development and growth for Finnish businesses and economy. Her focus is on improving cooperation both within VTT and with customers in order to create innovations.

“In my previous role at VTT, I was responsible for studying and developing models and techniques for innovation management based on collaborative learning of experts, management, and customers. Now I get to apply them in practice in my own organisation,” Kallio explains.

“We are a research organisation that provides expert services based on technological and multidisciplinary know-how. Our experts are professionals in their respective fields, but understanding customers’ goals and challenges and learning with them is also important,” Kallio says.

Innovation research shows that, in most cases, innovations stem from multi-disciplinary teams.
“Innovations require both a “top-down” effect, i.e., the management’s contribution, and a “bottom-up” effect, i.e., dialogue between experts and customers. We are looking for new ways of working to make this possible.”

“If we are successful in building better partnerships, the innovation process will also speed up. There will be no need to separately promote the adoption of innovations if our most important partners are involved in the process from the beginning.” Kallio explains.

Only agile organisations prosper in rapidly-changing operating environments. For Kallio, organisational restructuring is not an aim in itself. What matters most is being able to challenge people to think about things from new perspectives and shed light on future opportunities for solving socially significant challenges.  

“It is great to work with our top experts, managers, and customers. I feel privileged to be able to do this work and contribute to building VTT’s future.” Kallio says.

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Katri Kallio

Strategy process Manager Katri Kallio got her DSc (Technology) degree from Aalto University in November 2015. Her dissertation was called “Collaborative learning with users as an enabler of service innovation”. She joined VTT in 2007 when she was working on her business school dissertation. She was appointed as Strategy process Manager at the beginning of 2016.

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Tommi Ekholm

Senior Scientist Tommi Ekholm got his DSc. (Technology) degree from Aalto University in 2013. His dissertation discussed climate change mitigation scenarios, cost-effective ways to reduce emissions and associated uncertainties. He joined VTT in May 2006.

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Outi Mäkinen

Senior Scientist Outi Mäkinen, PhD (Food Science and Technology), graduated from the University College Cork in Ireland in 2014. She wrote her dissertation on quinoa proteins in food applications. Prior to joining VTT in 2015, she worked as a research professor at the University of Copenhagen, studying the effect of food textures on the sensation of feeling full.


 

 

 

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