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Sitra: Bioeconomy needs medium-sized plants

Landmarks Programme wants legislation to support, not limit, establishment of bioplants. A successful bioplant combines waste and energy management and produces high value-added products.

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Eero Kokkonen, Senior Lead of Bioeconomy at the Landmarks Programme, wants legislation to support, not limit, establishment of bioplants. A successful bioplant combines waste and energy management and produces high value-added products.

Sitra’s Landmarks Programme considers the feed-in tariff ensuring stable prices for bioplants and the Government’s renewable energy package as a step in the right direction. However, it alone is not enough. Eero Kokkonen believes that Finland has all the prerequisites to become a leading country in decentralised bioeconomy.

“Unfortunately, with the current bioplant structure this will not happen. We need more local, medium-sized bioplants, which collect the biomass in the surrounding regions and turn into high value-added products, such as biofuels, whenever possible.”

Winning concept would combine waste treatment, local energy and a refined product

In the summer, Sitra invited around forty bioeconomy experts to discuss the opportunities of the decentralised bioeconomy. According to the survey conducted among the experts, the key challenge to the sector is to make bioplants financially profitable.

Currently, there are only a few medium-sized biogas companies in Finland and their resources are not sufficient to build a nationwide biogas plant network. On the other hand, large corporations, such as forestry groups, are not necessarily interested in investing in new businesses with turnover of less than one billion euro.

According to the vision of bioeconomy experts, medium-sized plants will produce biodiesel, ethanol and high value-added products like fertilisers and other chemical industry products in addition to energy, such as heating and electricity. The varied fibres and chemical compounds as well as biological processes derived from biomass provide a multitude of opportunities. Kokkonen predicts that discovery of new medicines may even be possible.

According to Kokkonen, currently financially viable bioplants are the kind which, in addition to producing high value-added products, solve some sort of a waste management problem in their region and produce energy for the surrounding area. If the raw materials are even brought from the surrounding areas, there is no need for expensive and emission-inducing transports. Current logistics are too expensive.

What markets now need are medium-sized bioplants, which are flexible enough to treat a variety of raw materials. Plants that also process straw, municipal waste, fish-gutting waste, manure or, for example, hemp, could adjust their production according to the market situation.

Enabling policies instead of prohibitions and regulations

Today Sitra will publish an online study entitled “Hajautettu biotalous – väylä vihreään tulevaisuuteen” (“Decentralised bioeconomy – the road to a green future”), which collects the conclusions of the bioeconomy expert workshop and survey. The experts demand a local bioeconomy strategy, which the bioeconomy working group appointed by the Government would promote all the way to the Government Programme.

“It is imperative that legislation is amended so that it supports, not limit, a decentralised bioeconomy. At the moment, many good bioplants are never built because getting a legally valid environmental permit required from waste treatment plants may take as long as three years,” says Kokkonen.

“Waste should be seen first and foremost as raw material for bioplants. This means that community structure is planned so that the land-use planning would provide bioplants with business locations and simultaneously would considerably decrease the need for landfills.”

Finland’s strengths are a large area and strong tradition in forestry industry. We produce a great deal of biomass. Through the forestry industry, the basic infrastructure, such as machinery and equipment required to collect the wood chips as well as roads, are in place all around Finland.

“What we now need especially is that legislators and government officials change their attitude towards building decentralised bioplants to a more positive one.”

Further information

Eero Kokkonen, Senior Lead, Bioeconomy, Landmarks Programme tel. +358 9 6189 9297, forename.surname@sitra.fi

Publication details

Hajautettu biotalous – väylä vihreään tulevaisuuteen (in Finnish)
Eero Kokkonen
Reports 38
ISBN 978-951-563-737-6
ISSN 1796-7112