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Ecolan recovers ash from power plants: “2021 is a record year for ash fertilisation in Finland”

Ecolan processes ash originating from energy production into fertilisers and earth construction materials. Juha Ahvenainen, the company’s CEO, explains that there is global interest in restoring nutrients to forests in the form of ash fertilisers.

Image: Petteri Tuukkanen, Berry Creative

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“While many companies might have started in a garage, Ecolan originated in a cowshed. Our founder Hannu Tukiainen used to be a helicopter pilot, whose job included the aerial application of fertilisers to forested land. Ecolan’s story began when Hannu started testing ash-based forest fertilisers in a cowshed in Liperi, Finland. The work grew in the early 2000s as forestry firms became involved in the co-operation. Now, we have also expanded our business from forestry to other industries.

Ecolan produces fertilisers and construction materials from ash generated in the burning of biomass, coal or peat in the energy industry. Our plants are located in Nokia and Viitasaari.

Our business consists of three parts: the processing of industrial side streams for forest fertilisation, for use as an agricultural pasture fertiliser and for earth construction; a forest fertiliser application service; and the acquisition of side streams. Our side stream acquisition service is an effortless solution that enables the use of industrial side streams in a cost- and material-efficient way. We accept ash and other by-products suitable as raw materials for the production of fertilisers and earth construction materials. Our services cover the supply chain comprehensively.

I have been working in the circular economy for 20 years. Over the years, it has become clear to me that the circular economy is all about teamwork across borders. Open discussion and management of the partnership network provides the keys to success in the circular economy.

We discuss safety, quality control and product development with our partners. It is important for us to know the exact quality of the ash we receive, particularly when it comes from incineration plants, because we will process it for further use in forests and fields. We engage in the product development of plant-based fertilisers together with leading research institutes in the field as well as universities.

Ecolan’s future looks bright. Investments in the forest industry mean that there is a need for commercial forests and their fertilisation in the future. Each kilogram of fertiliser applied to forests also increases the carbon dioxide sequestration capacity of the forests, and this also ensures that forest owners can gain economic benefits. In fact, 2021 has been one of the best years ever for forest fertilisation in Finland.

Finnish expertise has global export potential. Interest in the Ecolan concept has been expressed in places as far away as Chile, for example. While Chile has a large forest industry, there is not a lot of awareness about nutrient restoration in forests in the form of ash to increase carbon sinks. In the future, we could export Ecolan’s expertise and forest fertilisation with ash to other countries.”

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The most interesting companies in the circular economy in Finland 2.1

The most interesting companies in the circular economy is a list compiled by Sitra to showcase Finland’s most inspiring examples of the circular economy. Sitra is using the list as a way to challenge Finnish companies to meet the changing needs of the world.

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