How Can We Create Growth in Low-Carbon Economy
Meeting the targets of the Paris Agreement requires substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and even the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere in the long term. The technologies to do that are already here, but many of them are still too energy-intensive and expensive for everyday use. Also, limiting global warming below 2 degrees Celsius requires much more than just energy solutions: food, transport, and resource use in general need major overhauls, as well. This low-carbon economy provides numerous new business opportunities for companies that are creating solutions to meet the CO2 targets in a large variety of products.
Reducing carbon emissions needs a wide variety of technologies across all sectors of business. VTT can provide quite a few of them.
Liisa Saarenmaa is the deputy director general at the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry responsible for the bioeconomic coordination in the ministry. The Finnish government has the intention of moving to renewable energy sources; the goal is a 50 percent reduction by 2030. However, the government is interested in much more than renewable energy. Its goal is to make Finland a powerhouse of the green economy and utilise all the opportunities that stem from carbon neutrality requirements.
“Forest bioeconomy can be seen as an instrument to achieve a systemic change, where wood and different ingredients, like lignin, in wood are refined into new end products, replacing fossil materials. This is just one of the ways to reduce our carbon footprint outside the energy sector.”
She has been working with VTT for years on different projects, varying from creating a protein roadmap for Finland to the utilisation of a Bioruukki pilot centre, and a platform for bio- and circular economy businesses with all of the modelling and piloting capability under one roof.
“VTT is a competitive advantage for Finland. They can create technologies for companies to be utilised in new, innovative products. Reducing carbon emissions needs a wide variety of technologies across all sectors of business. VTT can provide quite a few of them. This is the reason why we, as a ministry, have been working in close collaboration with VTT. They provide a long-term and broad view to the carbon-neutral future.”
VTT researchers have created three different scenarios for the future, combining carbon-neutral scenarios with bioeconomy solutions. The most ambitious of the scenarios, called BioEco scenario, looks at renewable resources, clean technologies, and the efficient use of natural resources and nutrients while taking care of biodiversity. The aim is to rebuild the entire industrial ecosystem as we know it.
Research Team Leader Tiina Koljonen from VTT sees this as a unique opportunity for Finland, which has a long history in the forest industry of producing pulp, paper, packaging materials, and sawn wood. This accounts for over 20 percent of Finland’s export revenue.
“With this radical BioEco scenario, we can have it both ways: the bioeconomy can be a growth engine for the economy and help us to achieve carbon goals. Finland has all the knowledge, mills and industrial infrastructure to make carbon-neutral a success story and a new powerhouse in our economy.”
The idea is to develop business opportunities from low-carbon solutions, instead of focusing solely on emission reductions or biofuels. By using bio-based products, we can minimise the substances and materials that have a negative impact on the environment, including fossil oil, coal, and plastic. It stimulates Finland’s self-sufficiency and supports economic growth, and it will help us to achieve a carbon-neutral society by 2045.
Over the last ten years, the Finnish forest industry has been transforming into a bioproduct industry, turning our “green gold” mill sites into bioproduct mills. Everything about the discussion of the bioeconomy in Finland is very different from the Central European version, as Tiina Koljonen explains.
“One of the missions we have at VTT is to explain this difference. Due to our heritage, bioeconomy and low-carbon solutions in Finland are forest-based, but in the rest of Europe, it is mostly agriculture-based.”