VTT prepares development paths towards 2050 climate goals– Finnish economy to revolve around the bioeconomy

News, Press release

According to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland's calculations, if used to produce and export high value products, Finnish forest and agricultural sectors could double their value-added by 2050. This work is the first quantitative scenario analysis of Finland's potential in the bioeconomy and its transition to a low-carbon economy, which systematically takes account of all industrial and other greenhouse gas emitting sectors.

The Finnish Government has set ambitious bioeconomy, energy and climate targets for the period up to 2030. VTT's new publication answers the question: How, in the best-case scenario, can Finland achieve the greenhouse gas mitigation targets set for 2050, enhance wellbeing by investing in the bioeconomy, and increase resource efficiency? The starting point for the scenario work involved visualising and analysing the different outcomes of different pathways.  

The scenarios have been drawn up from Finland's perspective, but other European countries are under similar pressures to build their economies by increased valued-added of industrial production. The direction is towards sustainable, decentralised and even a tailor-made industrial and energy economy.

Using every available means and getting more from less

The report examines the kinds of high-value-added products that can be developed from Finnish agriculture and forest biomass. To enhance our future prosperity and industrial competitiveness, it is important that Finland's natural resources are used for  products that will increase value-added of future bioeconomy.

"Finland needs to step up the pace in achieving its climate goals. Our future needs have been surveyed and solutions have been developed for activities such as production of climate-positive energy and the bio-based products. With the help of supporting policies and regulations and by investing in research, Finland has excellent prospects of joining the world's frontrunners in terms of the environment and business," says Antti Vasara, President & CEO of VTT.

In its report, VTT presents two low-carbon scenarios, which are: CNS and BioEco. These are compared to a Baseline scenario that takes account of the energy and climate targets set by Finland and the EU for the period up to 2030. The CNS (Carbon Neutral Scenario) scenario focuses on reducing Finland's greenhouse gas emissions more ambitiously than the rest of the EU. The BioEco scenario includes also the mitigation target of a low-carbon economy, as well as the utilisation of Finnish biomass in high value-added products and strict sustainability criteria for the assumed operating environment. The BioEco pathway will lead to the emergence of new types of industrial ecosystems and bioproducts that meet individual needs, supported by digitalisation and an assumed behavioural change.

Calculations suggest that all three scenarios would lead to growth in the national economy. The BioEco option would lead to increased growth of around 3 percentage points compared with the Baseline scenario. While the CNS option would decrease growth around 0.6 percentage points compared with the Baseline scenario by 2050, higher-than-assumed Finnish cleantech exports could accelerate economic growth in this scenario too.

The alternative scenarios reflect the researchers' visions of future opportunities. The scenarios and their impact assessments are designed to challenge policy-makers and other stakeholders.

New plastic from cellulose

The BioEco scenario results indicate that the value-added of Finnish forest industry production could even double by 2050, if the industry invests in high-value bioproducts and their markets develop. The value-added of Finnish forest-based bioproducts is currently EUR 14 billion. Climate change mitigation policies will ensure the sustainable use of biomass: long life-time products and the recycling of materials.

The increase in the added value of Finnish forest biomass is based on its use in goods such as composites and other plastic substitutes. These include packaging materials and textiles. For replacing paper machines, investments and expertise will lead to the creation of processing units that provide increasing value-added.

Changes on the menu

The agricultural sector has major potential to become more competitive and generate added value through new products. The BioEco scenario results indicate that developing new food products and increasing the processing degree could raise the value of agricultural and food production from the current EUR 6 billion to EUR 11 billion.

In addition to new products, the scenarios are based on assumptions about changing eating habits of consumers, such as eating more new proteins that replace red meat and dairy products. Arable land will switch from feed to food production and agricultural exports will grow. At the same time, environmental emissions will fall and nutrient cycles will become more efficient. This will require the acceptance of new protein sources by consumers, which is already reflected in the growing range of products available at retailers.

Resource-efficient power generation

Both scenarios envisage the growing use of biomass in energy production and the production of  advanced biofuels for transport, but the BioEco scenario does so more moderately. When the growth of bioenergy production declines, the use of other renewable energy sources – solar and wind – will increase. This will require a more decentralised energy systems and major investments in energy infrastructure in Finland.

To reduce the use of natural resources, we must increasingly look at energy and material efficiency in parallel. Finland already has a strong cleantech cluster and expertise in creating clean and smart energy solutions.

The challenge lies in the industrial sector, which still accounts for about half of Finland's energy consumption. Abandoning the use of oil and coal will require major changes in the industrial infrastructure. Change is also needed elsewhere in the world, particularly in the steel and cement industries, which generate a large share of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Carbon capture in industry will play an important role in achieving these goals. Finland's opportunities lie in climate-friendly solutions, for example. These include Bio-CCS technology, which would constitute a net carbon sink, in practice, by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere if carbon dioxide is stored permanently or used for products with a long cycle. However, there are still technical and regulatory uncertainties regarding the large-scale deployment of such technology.

Transport going electric

The CNS and BioEco pathways would lead to strong growth in electric vehicles. Hybrid and fully electric vehicles would account for over 75–80 percent of the market, and the share of passenger cars powered by fuel cells for 10–15 percent. Under the CNS scenario, freight transport would mainly use advanced liquid biofuels. In the BioEco scenario, light freight transport too would use electric power. The electrification of transport will be an essential tool, particularly for shorter journeys, but for longer journeys (including shipping and aircraft), a major, long-term role will be played in decarbonisation by alternative, renewable hydrocarbons.

VTT's Growth by integrating bioeconomy and low-carbon economy Scenarios for Finland until 2050

Antti Arasto
Antti Arasto
Tiina Koljonen
Tiina Koljonen
Research Team Leader
Raija Lantto
Raija Lantto
Principal Scientist
Our vision beyond 2030

Wide sectors of industry have a significant role in the climate effort. Production of construction materials, cement, steel, chemicals, and plastics in a climate-friendly manner is a huge leap toward a low-carbon world.