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Views on Finnish and Nordic Bioeconomy

With Kaisu Annala

We asked Kaisu Annala, Strategic Director of Cleantech at the Ministry of Employment and the Economy in Finland, some questions on Finnish and Nordic bioeconomy. Kaisu chairs the Nordic Working Group for Green Growth - Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Finland has set ambitious goals to be in the forefront of bioeconomy in the Finnish Bioeconomy Strategy drafted in 2014, a project set up by the Ministry of Employment and the Economy.

In your opinion, why has bioeconomy risen on the agenda in such a short time, both nationally and internationally?

- The bioeconomy is the global response to the continuously growing concern over the consequences of the climate change. In Finland, the bioeconomy and its enabler, cleantech, are seen as the answer to the question, how to renew the economy after the big holes created by the challenges in electronics and printing paper markets of the Finnish products.

What kind of new opportunities does the bioeconomy offer regionally? Can it offer concrete opportunities for job creation and regional growth for rural areas?

- The bioeconomy, like the 'circular economy', opens minds to see the potential of biomass whether it's virgin, recycled or waste. It is not experimentation though: we cannot just start to produce energy from biomass. Either the market already exists or it has to be grown from scratch.

In the first case the bioproducer faces the competition of the fossil producers, who are not going to give up the market easily. Well, most of the oil companies have started bio based research or at least they closely follow the progress. For example, some companies like Neste Oil have major biobased operations themselves. It's always cannibalization of the energy market, even individual companies have opposing forces working internally.

In the second case the market creation does not happen overnight, but co-research in the value chain has to be done, and this can take years to become profitable. The question is who can cover the costs during these years? Even if new technologies are close to the market the European research funding agencies have their hands bound. The large companies want to see results and payback fast so it's very important that we are able to use bio based intermediate products as biofuels during the time required for the market to generate higher added values.

But coming to your question, the bioeconomy does offer regional potential. For rural regions our Nordic forests will be the treasure world. But one thing we can't disregard are the logistical and other secondary costs associated with a growing bioeconomy. This brings us back to the financial facts of life and will dictate how many jobs and how much business can be created.

How important is the role of the bioeconomy for industrial development in Finland? What does the Finnish Bioeconomy strategy from 2014 emphasise?

- The industrial Policy of Finland was renewed in 2014. The spearheads for growth are bcd, i.e bioeconomy, cleantech and digitalization. The target is to gain serious growth in bioeconomy, 40 billion euro more revenue by 2025. Another 25 billion is to be created in clean technologies by 2020. Like I said earlier, cleantech is the enabler of the bioeconomy.

What can the Nordic countries learn from each other concerning the bioeconomy? Can you mention some interesting regional bioeconomy projects in Finland and the other Nordic countries?

- The most important issue is probably to focus on collaboration rather than competition, at least as much as the customers and competition laws allow. That way we can learn together and have the critical mass to proceed. The Nordic countries are all quite small, and our large companies are not so large in comparison with their competitors around the globe.

A bold ongoing project is the biorefinery in Äänekoski, Finland. Their permitting is progressing and they will decide if the project will be implemented sometime in the spring. There is also an interesting process called KasvuOpen ("growth open") going on in the region to find the biorefinery partners. It's worth a google, I would say.

You are the Secretary of the Nordic Council of Ministers' working group for green growth – innovation and entrepreneurship. How do you think we could increase the Nordic cooperation within bioeconomy to achieve concrete results? For instance, how can we increase the visibility of Nordic bioeconomy actors internationally?

- Cooperation should be built especially based on innovation in the sector. New processes and services have to be developed and demonstrated. For instance, new opportunities for funding this cooperatively can be sought from the new Horizon 2020 programme.

We should also organize stands in exhibitions close to each other under the basis of 'Nordic clean technologies for biobased products'. One good example that already exists is the Cleantech Venture Day.

Back to Nordregio News Issue 4, 2014