Ruka, in Finland’s Lapland region, was the perfect location to host the first World BioEconomy Forum; the conference center is set on a hill overlooking some of Finland’s pristine wilderness. In fact, the theme of the event was “The Bioeconomy Celebrates Nature,” and the conference content was very much geared to how bio-based industries can work hand-in-hand with nature by managing natural resources and making sure biodiversity is included in everything we do as industry players.
Finland was also the perfect nation to be hosting the event—the country is being seen as something of a hot spot for bio-industry investment. Jukka Kantola, founder of the World BioEconomy Forum and chairman of the advisory board, said in the opening speech, “It was just over a year ago when the foundation for the World BioEconomy Forum was laid down. Members of the Finnish parliament and forward-thinking bio-industry stakeholders visited Ruka, and it was established that there was a need for an international economic forum—much like Davos in Switzerland every year—however, focused on the bioeconomy.
“At that time there was a lot of debate underway about forest utilization, land use rights, carbon emissions and carbon capturing especially, across Europe. At the same time, Finland has become a very attractive destination for new biorefineries and bioproduct mills. We have seen one such example already implemented—Metsä Group’s Äänekoski Bioproduct mill—and there are four more large projects already being planned.” (See Paper360° Nov/Dec 2018 for a feature on the Äänekoski mill.)
The forum was set up to bring stakeholders from forestry and raw material associated companies and institutions together with industrial and commercial operations to form a platform where informed dialogue can take place. The forum is also a stage where government representatives can express their views on their own countries’ missions and strategies when it comes to the bioeconomy.
A DIVERSE PROGRAM
Despite Ruka’s remote location, the event was packed with delegates from around the world, including countries from all across Europe, India, China, Australia, Indonesia, and the US. Speakers and panelists included several representatives from governments throughout Europe; technology suppliers; major pulp, paper, and textile producers; and end users.
There were five panel discussions:
• Evolving Biostrategies, which concentrated on the high-level activities and strategies within governments as they recognize that the bioeconomy is an essential economic area going forward;
• Forests Mitigating Climate Change, highlighting the importance of the good management of existing resources, as well as sustaining and introducing biodiversity wherever possible;
• The Circular Bioeconomy – Minimizing Losses, covering the ever-import area of making something valuable out of waste streams;
• Evolving Bioproducts, revealing statistics and highlighting some of the work going on in the textile industry in particular, as cellulosic products are seen as a much better choice for the environment in comparison with fossil fuel and cotton-derived products; and
• Tourism and the Bioeconomy, which was held while walking through the Finnish wilderness, allowing delegates to witness first-hand how forests are managed sustainably, for both eco-tourism and for working forests. Delegates were also given a chance to plant trees along the way.
In addition, a series of workshops consisted of five separate groups of both speakers and delegates, going behind closed doors and coming up with ideas and strategies for the future that can further put the bioeconomy on the map as a vital economic sector.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM RUKA
Delegates at Ruka were informed about the importance of the bioeconomy to Europe in particular. A central keynote speaker and panelist moderator, Christian Patterson—considered the “father” of the European bioeconomy; former director, EU Commission; and advisor to the German government on bioeconomy matters—said, “The bioeconomy sector has been gaining momentum since September 2005, with 50 countries and regions around the world now having a bioeconomy strategy or related document in place. One of the latest countries to reveal its bioeconomy strategy is Latvia, where the sector is worth EUR 3.8 billion (US$4.3 billion) and provides employment to over 150,000 people. Overall the bioeconomy is worth EUR 2,300 billion (US$2,626 billion) in the EU alone, employing 22 million people.”The world’s forests are seen as a key answer in the fight to alleviate climate change, and there was some
positive news revealed at the forum. Professor Eduardo Rojas Briales from University of Valencia, Spain, informed the audience that deforestation was actually reducing, and forest area was increasing globally. “According to our latest figures there are 11 percent more forests in the world and forest landscapes are gaining momentum,” Briales said. “Wood is the most abundant and affordable raw material, and consistent research has shown that the most productive forests are locally managed by local communities.”Lauri Hetemäki from the European Forest Institute said, “Biodiversity and the bioeconomy are married together; you don’t have one without the other. This is especially true in a world in which forests have to adapt to climate change.”
OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE PULP AND PAPER INDUSTRIES
For the pulp and paper industry in particular, a move into textile production presents a significant opportunity. The production of textiles is attracting significant interest as a bioeconomy sector, as global production reaches 100 million metric tpy with a rise of another 50 million metric tpy expected by 2030. “A lot of consumers don’t realize that up to 60 percent of all clothing is derived from fossil fuels and, in terms of micro-plastics, are the highest polluter on the planet,” said Michael Carus, founder and managing director of Nova-Institute. “There is a huge potential for manufacturers in this sector to source raw material using cellulosic fibers, which biodegrade easily.”
The circular economy was also a prominent topic at the forum with the emphasis on utilizing waste streams across the whole value chain. Pulp and paper technology supplier Andritz specializes in designing and supplying pulp and paper mills along with equipment that turns waste streams into viable products; Kari Tuominen, president and CEO of Andritz Oy, said, “There are a lot of real opportunities at pulp mills now to turn side and waste streams into valuable bio products such as methanol, sulfuric acid, lignin, and biogas, bringing extra revenue at the same time as finding an effective way of dealing with waste.
“The pulp and paper industry is actually an excellent example of circular economy,” Tuominen continued. “The raw material absorbs carbon dioxide while growing, it is totally bio-based and renewable, products are recyclable and bio-degradable, etc. Paper products are recovered and reused in paper production to a high degree. Lately a lot of research and development work has focused on the development of technologies to reuse all side streams by converting them to valuable products, chemicals and bioenergy. Dissolving pulp made of wood fibers can be converted to viscose and used, for example, in the textile industry. This is a more sustainable alternative compared to cotton and oil-based materials.”
AN ADDED BONUS FOR THE BIOECONOMY IN EUROPE
During the conference, another highlight was a live video broadcast from EU Headquarters in Brussels, where Waldemar Kütt, head of the EU’s Bioeconomy strategy, revealed that the budget for research into food and natural resources—the European bioeconomy cluster—will double for the period 2021-2027 to EUR 10 billion (US$11.42 billion). Kütt said, “This large increase is recognition that we are in an economy that is becoming more and more dependent on biological resources to produce energy and material in a way that protects the environment and also reduces greenhouse gases.”
Kantola concluded on the success of the first World BioEconomy Forum. “The bioeconomy community, which fully includes the pulp and paper industries, needs to develop a clear, visible corporate identity,” he said. “Therefore, more global platforms such as our forum at Ruka are really important to share views and change views, and to learn mutually about practices good and bad from around the world. The results from the discussions at Ruka proved in many ways that this regular engagement is vital as we go forward.”
Plans are already well in place for the next World BioEconomy Forum, which will be held once more in Ruka on September 11-13, 2019. For more information, visit WCBEF.com.
Mark Rushton is editor, Europe and Asia, for Paper360° magazine. Reach him at [email protected].