From the series “Get to Know the Clusters of the Kuopio Region”
Due to population growth, urbanization and the rising middle class, the world will need 45% more energy, 50% more food and 30% more water by 2030. On the other hand, the world has less virgin natural resources than in the past. The only long-term solution is the sustainable use of natural resources (Circular economy – Business Finland).
In this article from the “get to know the clusters in the North-Savo region” series, the highlights of the interview with Harri Auvinen, the cluster manager have been covered. The article provides information on a variety of subjects, including the history of the cluster, the services it offers to its members, the challenges that companies in this sector face, ways to make the region more appealing to investors in this sector, and the incentives and opportunities that exist in the region in this sector.
Memberships and Certifications: European Cluster Collaboration Platform (ECCP)
Location: Pohjois-Savo, Kuopio, Savilahti.
The cluster became a member at ECCP on 24th May 2022, with the expertise of its key members including Savonia University of Applied Sciences, University of Eastern Finland (UEF), Natural Resources Institute of Finland (Luke) and Savon Ammattiopisto (Sakky).
Sustainable development is aided by the production of high-value goods and the investigation of alternative biomaterials. Hence, the cluster supports the growth of companies in the industry (Bio and Circular Economy) by bringing together the best specialists in the development of technology, products and services as well as businesses.
The key goal of a circular economy is to close material resource loops, built on the foundation of renewable energy and non-toxic materials. Further, a sustainable bioeconomy goes beyond simply switching fossil resources with renewable bioresources. It requires low-carbon energy inputs, sustainable supply chains, and promising disruptive conversion technologies for the sustainable transformation of renewable bioresources to high-value bio-based products, materials, and fuels. The circular economy can be complemented by the bioeconomy, a concept that can incorporate economic activities related to the invention, development, production, and use of biological products and processes for energy, materials, and chemicals. The resulting intersection can be referred to as the “circular bioeconomy” (Tan & Lamers, 2021). (Read the article “Circular Bioeconomy Concepts—A Perspective”).
The cluster offers R&D services to businesses through its partners’ facilities and equipment. The Bio and Circular Economy laboratory at Savonia UAS, for example, has two fully automated fermenter units (in the picture) for microbiological research, a mobile bioprocess unit consisting of two 3 m3 reactors that can be run at different temperatures and in parallel or series, and a greenhouse for the development of new type of circular fertilizers and soil improvers based on local side streams. UEF has facilities in Joensuu as well, including an HTL/HTC reactor (you can find more information about the facilities here). During first quarter 2023 Savonia UAS is going to develop new Bio and Circular laboratory at the campus and relocating majority of the facilities to the new lab.
Another project in that the cluster is involved is the “Biosphere North-Savo project”, which focuses on the use of biomass and biorefining processes to create unique industrial products.
“The project focuses on tangible development on selected spearheads based on action plans developed in collaboration with businesses, educational and research organizations, and partners. During the project’s implementation phase (April 1, 2020- March 31, 2023), capacities for commercializing side streams such as source materials for soil improvers and recycled fertilizers or in other uses such as bio hydrogen production, will be developed”, mentioned Auvinen. The project’s implementers are Savonia UAS, UEF, and Luke.
In terms of utilizing expertise, the cluster also collaborates with Agri-Food Cluster North Savo, Kuopio Water Cluster, and Energy Cluster North Savo.
Any firm that is involved in the bio and/or circular economy can become a member of the cluster. To become a member, they only need to fill out an application and return a signed form to the cluster. Furthermore, anybody interested in becoming a member of the cluster is encouraged to contact the board of management for more information on completing the application and becoming a member.
The cluster also plans to hold frequent meetings with members to facilitate networking, as well as to send out monthly newsletters that reflect the present state of projects, planned events, and any other relevant information to keep members informed.
Many businesses are currently struggling with rising energy, fertilizer and raw material prices as a result of the conflict in Ukraine. Another difficulty raised by several of the member firms is a shortage of competent and experienced people in the industry.
“Currently, neither Savonia UAS nor UEF offer a degree in bioeconomy; the closest degree to this industry is environmental science, and many graduates from this major are qualified to work at the cluster. As a result, the cluster collaborates with the university to deliver bioeconomy-related courses”, highlighted Auvinen.
Furthermore, some firms face R&D issues, which the cluster may assist them with by creating a project that the companies require and applying for financing to conduct the project, as well as providing the necessary infrastructure and facilities. Collaboration between corporations, universities, and research institutions has been established, but it will require long-term trust. At this stage, either the companies are aware of the skills and potentials of the cluster’s or universities’ specialists in terms of R&D concerns or other obstacles, and they seek services directly from the cluster. On the other hand, the cluster has certain ideas that can help some firms with their R&D through their key members, so they can reach out to the companies for collaboration. The positive outcomes of the collaborative partnership over the next few years may persuade enterprises to continue working with the cluster.
“To remain strong, we must widen our services, develop our facilities and laboratories, and create longer-term initiatives in conjunction with businesses. To do so, the cluster needs more funds, as the biosphere project sponsored by the North Savo regional council is now the only source of funding”, said Auvinen.
The cluster intends to apply for further funding in order to develop the ecosystem. Although large firms such as Mondi Power Flute and FinVector are developing their plants in Kuopio, long-term activities such as coordination with the North Savo regional council and the City of Kuopio are required to provide appropriate sites for companies to start operating in Kuopio.
Living and doing business in Kuopio is relatively simple, and there is easy access to knowledgeable staff from UEF and Savonia UAS. In terms of resources, there are high-quality and appropriate resources available, such as adequate fields for businesses to begin operations.
More studies focusing on biogas production would be needed, since there is a lot of unutilized, potential raw materials in the region. Production of circular fertilizers and soil improvers can be incorporated into the biogas process. This offers a circular solution instead of traditional mineral-based fertilizers. There should be more financial and knowledge support for farmers, so they could invest for a biogas production. As of present, the first biogas distribution unit is located Neulamäki (Gasum), where the biogas utilized is not generated locally but rather transported to the region from elsewhere and merely distributed on site.
“Finland should also have a schedule for hydrogen production & distribution network investments and funding program to implementation”, said Auvinen.
Text: Parastoo Jalili
Photos: Bio and Circular Cluster