South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (Xamk) and Kouvola Innovation Ltd. (Kinno) organized the international webinar “Bioeconomy- Made in Kymenlaakso, Finland” in September 2021. Kymenlaakso and its actors were presented as forerunners and potential partners for international development work, and international actors presented their actions in the field of the bio and circular economy in the webinar. The event was a success, with many, international, registrants*.
The webinar “Bioeconomy- Made in Kymenlaakso, Finland” was organized as a part of the project “New Openings in the Bioeconomy (BUT)”, primarily funded by the Regional Council of Kymenlaakso through ERDF. The project seeks suitable tools and operating models to serve the carbon neutrality goals of the Kymenlaakso region.
The project targets include strengthening existing networks and creating opportunities for companies in the region to network with international actors. This will help Kymenlaakso to achieve its low carbon targets through international development projects in the themes of bio and circular economy. It has previously been stated that stronger communication on good examples from the region would increase others’ knowledge of RDI activities in the bio and circular economy and improve the opportunities for continuous development.
In the beginning, the main idea of the seminar was a forum where people could create and improve their contacts in the field of the bio and circular economy. Due the covid-19 pandemic, instead of a live meeting, it turned into a webinar, where the region of Kymenlaakso and its actors were identified as forerunners and potential partners for international development work, and where international actors were able to present their actions in the field of the bio and circular economy.
Aiming for carbon neutrality
The Region of Kymenlaakso aims to be carbon neutral by 2040, at the latest. The Regional Council of Kymenlaakso has joined to the carbon neutrality network, in addition to the cities of Hamina, Kouvola and Kotka. The result being that all action taken towards sustainable development and low carbon future are warmly supported.
In the webinar, in the opening words from the Regional Mayor of Kymenlaakso, Jaakko Mikkola, emphasized the importance of the bio and circular economy for Kymenlaakso when striving towards carbon neutrality. Mr. Mikkola reminded the participants that the bio and circular economy is one of the three main priorities in the smart specialization strategy (RIS3) of Kymenlaakso. He stated that “smart specialization is the driving force behind innovation, growth and internationalization to achieve a region that is competitive, attractive and vibrant”. This was a great starting point for the event.
Kymenlaakso and bioeconomy in the forest industry
Kymenlaakso has a long traditional history in the bioeconomy. The area’s forest industry has been able to utilize waters and forests for 150 years. Kymenlaakso has one of the most significant forest industry clusters in Europe.
The competitiveness and success of the sector are based on a strong core business and its continuous development. All presenters from the forest industry stated the same, that all the companies operating globally have the same basic starting point for their operations. The foundation of their business opportunities are the global megatrends, which drive the demand for renewable materials. Industrial symbiosis or the idea of a circular economy is also evident in forest industry plants.
The forest industry has a long-term experience of working with materials and energy used as efficiently as possible, in a sustainable way. In Kymenlaakso, it is believed that most fossil-based materials can be replaced with renewable ones. All large companies have their own priorities through which they promote sustainable development. For example, Stora Enso Sunila Mill is the largest kraft lignin extraction plant in the world. MM Kotkamills has a vision to replace plastic, and it produces the completely plastic-free coffee cup. At UPM Kymi, they integrate the circular economy as a key element of its activities, they turn sustainable wood raw material and residues into different products, e.g., pulp, paper and energy.
Sustainability, education, and RDI
Even though the Kymenlaakso region might appear as a small player internationally, with its 170 000 inhabitants “rural areas and rural cities can have a significant role in sustainability transformation”, as emphased by Juha Helenius from the Ruralia Institute, University of Helsinki.
Universities closely related to Kymenlaakso have good knowledge about the region, the ongoing activities, what is needed in the future, both there and elsewhere. For example, LUT University has projects related to use of side streams to renew concrete, and they study materials and technology needed for sustainable re-materializations. Whereas, at Xamk there are a diverse range of RDI projects carried out e.g., in the fields of energy efficiency, fraction technology and carbon-curing of concrete.
All universities can serve companies with education and RDI activities and environmental testing. For example, Xamk’s KymiLabs main activities are emission measurements and testing of fuels and concrete. The information gained through these labs and in universities more broadly, is very important in the development of the circular bio-based economy.
Possible partners for collaboration with regional actors in Kymenlaakso were found in Estonia and the Netherlands. Kaja Peterson, the presenter from Stockholm Environment Institute Tallinn Centre, Estonia, raised the importance of different matters, such as that the innovations in bioeconomy are enabled by linkages, networks, and interaction. Another presenter, Alwin Hoogendoorn from the Centre of Expertise Biobased Economy, Netherlands, mentioned several biobased research groups and various projects they have. Many of the projects are related to materials and they are also interested in the Kymenlaakso region.
Local actors are on the right track
In the webinar, regional actors presented current activities aimed at accelerating the development of the bio and circular economy in Kymenlaakso region, and potential possibilities that are not currently efficiently utilized, yet.
There is an advanced plan for Myllykoski Bioethanol, where the main raw material is sustainably harvested cereal straw from the region. This would bring prosperity and jobs to the whole region. Another suitable site for new bio and circular economy businesses, with fully furnished offices and large industrial space in Kouvola, is Voikkaa business park. Both sites would take advantage of the infrastructure from the former paper mills.
Other good examples of sustainability and promotion of bio and circular economy were given by Elementit-E Ltd. and Kymenlaakson Jäte Ltd. Elementit-E is family business in timber construction, whose buildings are 100 % technologically recyclable and movable. The company has taken several steps to promote bio and circular economy, such as sorting, recycling, training personnel and producing renewable energy with wood chips and solar panels.
Kymenlaakson Jäte Ltd. is 100% communities-owned waste company that promotes bio and circular economy by producing biogas from garden waste and collecting landfill gas and turning it into energy (heat and electricity). The power plant using wood waste as fuel has started heat production for district heating. The unrecyclable waste is used as a fuel in a waste-to-energy power plant. In Kymenlaakso approximately 97% of household waste is utilized, almost half as material and the rest as energy, said Virpi Leppälä, presenter from local waste company Kymenlaakson Jäte. The company also has solar panels, geothermal heating in their offices, and garbage trucks use biogas as their fuel.
Because the demand for green and innovative bio-circular solutions and technology is growing, the need for a circular economy center and business park has arisen. Hyötyvirta-concept being developed in Kouvola, because the “circular economy concerns all companies, and provides opportunities to create new business”, said Kinno’s Mika Penttilä. The park is planned to be built close to a waste treatment center, with good logistics connections, to enable as effective and versatile material treatment and utilization as possible.
The moderator Ari Lindeman, Acting Mayor of the City of Imatra (former Research Manager at Xamk) summed up the session well, when he stated that “we need closely knit ecosystems around bioeconomy innovation and business for our regions to prosper and meet the climate challenge.”
It was gratifying to see that the webinar, which focuses on the bioeconomy of Kymenlaakso, was clearly of interest to many people, as the webinar had more than one hundred registrants from 11 countries (and over 250 viewers for webinar recording during the week after webinar!) One of the reasons the webinar received many foreign registrants was the comprehensive online marketing, as the webinar was also the World Circular Economy Forum (WCEF) -side event and part of the “Year of research-based knowledge” -event.
The participants were given a positive picture of the bio and circular economy situation in Kymenlaakso, and according to the feedback, the participants were satisfied with the content of the webinar. Hopefully, the event will lead to significant co-development work between different actors in the future.
* The number of participants during the webinar varied, so the actual number of participants in the webinar can’t be said. Only the number of registrants is known.
Read more about the project and the webinar from the website: https://www.xamk.fi/en/research-and-development/new-openings-in-the-bioeconomy-but/
The video “Kymenlaakso, promoter of bio and circular economy”, which premiered in the webinar: