From the series “Get to Know the Clusters of the Kuopio Region”
The energy industry is experiencing a revolution; previously, energy was mostly produced by burning fossil fuels such as peat and coal and Sumitomo SHI FW Energia, a global, innovative provider of energy and environmental technologies and services concentrating on high efficiency and flexible energy generation, provided peat and coal firing boilers to several power plants for a long period. However, the global goal is to get rid of fossil fuels, which produce carbon dioxide emissions leading to climate change and that is why energy producing companies and manufactures of power plants are looking for innovative ways to replace them with more renewable energy sources.
In this article from the “get to know the clusters in the North-Savo region” series, main topics in the energy sector has been highlighted in an interview with Markku Huhtinen, the cluster’s manager. You’ll read about the cluster, the factors that led to its formation, the services it offers to members, the advantages of becoming a member, the main incentives in the energy sector in the region for investors, and the main challenges this sector faces.
Memberships and Certifications: European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP)
Location: North-Savo, Varkaus
(Want to get familiar with what is happening in the energy research sector at the Savonia UAS Varkaus campus? Watch this video)
Varkaus is the primary municipality in the region for manufacturing of energy technical products, with big enterprises such as Sumitomo SHI FW Energia Oy. The annual income of these large enterprises is over 1000 million Euros, with half of it going to exports, indicating that manufacturing of energy technical products is a key sector in the North Savo region. Varkaus also has a university campus with over 300 students and faculty personnel specialized in energy engineering education and RDI-work in the field of environmentally friendly production. Because the large industry in Varkaus required direct access to workers from Savonia UAS, the UAS decided over 10 years ago to start the energy engineering education in the city, to guarantee the availability of skilled labor force for manufacturers in the energy sector in Varkaus.
North Savo region is witnessing the establishment of an extensive energy cluster in support of machine and metal industry, the key industrial sector and a major smart specialization focus in the region, with the objective to improve the international growth potential of businesses in the energy sector through innovation, services of research institutions for product development. The activities that led to the establishment of Pohjois-Savo Energy Cluster started in 2018 with the preparatory project for the development of North-Savo Energy Technology’s RDI ecosystem and the work continued with the actual development project of North-Savo RDI ecosystem that ended in 2022 and was funded by the Regional Council of North Savo. During this time the North-Savo Energy Cluster was founded in 2020.
Over the last ten years, the cluster has spent around 3 million euros to improve their lab at the Savonia UAS Varkaus campus energy research center. One of the most unique and used facilities at the energy research center is a fluidized bed boiler with an 8-meter height and 0.5-meter width that can be utilized to burn different fuels to see how to make it more environmentally friendly.
The cluster’s purpose is to become worldwide renowned in order for companies to achieve technological advances. Networking with companies is a key duty for the cluster, as is requesting for financing to assist the cluster’s R&D projects. Through its networks, the cluster provides significant knowledge and practical research tools to firms and partners. It recognized the importance of collaboration among companies with similar needs and established open innovation teams, in which several qualified representatives from companies that want to develop a similar technology will gather and discuss what they can do together to develop a new product or innovation. The cluster provides laboratory facilities as well as training for businesses, and it attempts to forecast future demands.
“As an example of what the cluster’s innovation teams are doing, on June 17th 2022, there was a seminar in Varkaus concentrating on the Promotion of Hydrogen Economy in North Savo, in which many enterprises participated and expressed their opinions on the matter. During the seminar, the Korkia consulting firm presented a survey on the hydrogen economy in Savonia and Karelia region. Other participants, including corporations and investors, spoke during the event, informing people about their activities and potential. Another company’s activity was to mix CO2 from exhaust gas and hydrogen to produce synthetic methane, which may be used as fuel in transportation”, mentioned Huhtinen.
Upcoming event: The second seminar, in the Horizon2020 RDI-project and RE4Industry Knowledge Transfer Seminar Series, will be conducted in Varkaus on November 25th. The seminar is held in cooperation with Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland, ESEIA, North-Savo Regional Council, City of Varkaus and North-Savo Energy Cluster and hosted by Savonia UAS. Representatives from industry, science and research, education, administration, politics and civil society are expected to participate in the seminar. (For more information, click here).
To become a member of the cluster, candidates just simply fill out a form on the website and email it back to the contact person of their choice on the website. (Interested in becoming a member? click here)
The cluster has launched a new research line with several environmentally friendly projects focused on how to create heat and power using non-combustible technology, how to replace fossil fuels with more sustainable alternatives, and so on. Start-ups in these disciplines can join and collaborate with the cluster to complete the projects. Main actors in these projects have been Savonia UAS (Varkaus Energy Technology Unit), University of Eastern Finland (Fine Particle and Aerosol Technology Laboratory), Navitas Business Services, and approximately 20 businesses in energy sector (also new companies are accepted to the project). The cluster’s 20 corporate members are mainly large or medium-sized enterprises in the energy industry, with some start-ups among them. In their second three-year period project for the years 2022-2025, the cluster intends to grow the number of member companies from twenty to thirty.
There have been seven work packages in the previous project either running by UEF or Savonia UAS. Of these, six have been technical in nature and one aimed at networking and development of operational model for co-operation. The technical work packages include e.g.:
The topic of biomethane and synthetic methane production and utilization has recently become popular. Companies in the energy sector such as Savon Voima, Sumitomo SHI FW Energia, and Riikinvoima may offer bio waste or CO2 in exhaust gases of power plants for raw materials to the companies interested in investing in bio or synthetic methane production, having strong expertise in providing sustainable energy solutions. Several firms in the region are doing feasibility studies in this field.
Wega is an example of a company that is focusing on the decarbonization of the heavy transportation industry in Finland by establishing a clean P2X gas production and distribution network. Replacing diesel fuel in public transportation with biogas and more sustainable energy is a priority not just in Finland but throughout Europe, and it attracts investors’ interest since there are qualified enterprises in the region. In the next 20 years, fossil fuels will almost certainly be replaced by hydrogen energy over the world.
As an innovation center, the cluster is now attempting to comprehend the position in the Hydrogen economy. After the technological concept has been developed and the experimental proof of concept has been completed, the technology may be confirmed in the labs, and the project is ready to proceed from TRL 2-4 to TRL 5-8. The cluster can provide the necessary infrastructure as well as skills to assist the project at various levels.
“Our energy companies may further develop their services and provide various environmentally friendly services, such as waste-heat recovery. For example, by establishing a data center or a hydrogen factory in the region, a large amount of waste-heat will be generated, and Savon Voima or Kuopion Energia are the companies that can buy the waste-heat and recover it using various waste heat recovery technologies to provide valuable energy sources while reducing overall energy consumption. The waste heat generated by industrial process may actually circulate as a source of energy for the production, allowing the firm to produce its own energy”, highlighted Huhtinen.
The main issue is that the energy sector is rapidly evolving, and there are several opportunities for corporations to pursue. What product should they work on, and generally what is the right decision to make? we are looking together in the R&D teams of the North Savo Energy Cluster to find answers to these questions.
Text: Parastoo Jalili
Photos: Energy Cluster North Savo