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The bioeconomy has to be profitable

Technology leaders expanded on their bioeconomy plans and considered the role of universities in product development work.

Technology directors Lars Peter Lindfors, Mikael Hannus and Heidi Fagerholm believe that moving to a bioeconomy represents a huge change for traditional industries. Directors discussed at the Sustainable Technologies panel held during the Aalto Academic Summit week.

'We have to quadruple or even quintuple product development from its current level, which is 0.5% of our turnover,' outlined Stora Enso's Vice President Mikael Hannus.

His company, known for pulp and paper products, needs product development investment as it develops bio-based products with a better margin.

'The new business is based on renewable raw materials and recyclable products,' says Hannus.

Kemira's Chief Technology Officer Heidi Fagerholm thinks along the same lines. The chemical manufacturer already utilises waste flows from other industrial sectors in the production of products such as water treatment chemicals.

'Our principle is that every one of our new products has to be better than what's already on the market in terms of the environment,' explains Heidi Fagerholm.

According to Senior Vice President, Technology Lars Peter Lindfors, Neste Oil is also planning to expand from fuel refining and, for example, begin supplying raw materials for bioplastics

'We believe that renewable forms of energy as an integral part of our company's future,' he explains.

Science is necessary

The majority of plant-based chemical compounds are still uncharacterised and unexploited. Residues from the wood processing industry represent a particularly interesting source of biomolecules. However, a lot of science is needed to determine how the biomass can be transformed into molecules that are valuable in terms of material and energy efficiency.

'Technology development is the most important force driving the bioeconomy,' states Mikael Hannus.

University cooperation is of utmost importance to Neste, Kemira and Stora Enso.

Lars Peter Lindfors points out that fossil fuels are not running out yet. In order to replace fossil fuels, biorefining has to be financially viable.

'We need technology breakthroughs that can improve price competitiveness,' says Lindfors.

The panel members believe that universities play a key role in developing new technology. University cooperation is of utmost importance to Neste, Kemira and Stora Enso. The companies don't have enough resources to perform the necessary basic research.

'It's important for universities to do radical research that can lead to something completely new,' continues Lars Peter Lindfors.

The bioeconomy is already a real business for many companies. Neste Oil launched its biodiesel in 2007, and today it is the world's leading manufacturer of renewable diesel fuel.

'Last year, this new business accounted for nearly half of the company's profit,' explains Lars Peter Lindfors.

New products are in the works, such as a bio-based fuel for planes.

Stora Enso's Mikael Hannus, Neste Oil's Lars Peter Lindfors and Kemira's Heidi Fagerholm discuss the opportunities of the bioeconomy at the Sustainable Technologies panel held during the Aalto Academic Summit week. Aalto University's Academic Summit week (wcc.aalto.fi)

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