Regional business and development company Kokkolanseudun Kehitys Oy (KOSEK) wanted to know whether a biorefinery producing industrial sugar could be located in Kokkola, a town situated on the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia. The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) studied whether the volume of biomass located in central Finland is sufficient to provide raw material for the plant.
Last spring, Mr. Stefan Jungell from KOSEK faced a problem. The development company wanted to know whether a full-sized biorefinery could be built in Kokkola. It was the task of project manager Jungell to identify the profitability of the investment.
“We had recently returned from a business visit to Central Europe, and we knew that a group of leading companies in the bioindustry are looking for a location for an industrial sugar production plant”, Jungell says.
Finnish wood is an excellent raw material for industrial sugar, and Kokkola is an ideal location for a production plant, as the region has strong expertise in chemistry through Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius and various industrial companies.
However, companies based in Central Europe are interested not only in raw material and expertise, but also in the environment.
“The question was whether we can cut the 500,000 tons of wood needed by the biorefinery every year in central Finland in a sustainable way”, Jungell says.
Calculations customised according to customers’ wishes
Jungell contacted Dr. Perttu Anttila, senior scientist at Luke. Anttila is part of a group of experts who have extensive experience in biomass availability assessments.
“These calculations are ordered from us by regional development companies, as well as forest and energy companies, that are planning to invest in the bioeconomy and that first need to identify the availability and price of raw materials”, Anttila says.
The key question of the project was specified at the kick-off meeting: Can 500,000 tons of wood be harvested from forest thinnings in central Finland in a sustainable way over the next 10–20 years and, if so, at what price?
“Even though we here evaluated the volumes of stemwood harvested from thinnings, we can equally include harvesting residues and stumps or straw-based biomass obtained from fields in the calculation. Every calculation is customised on the basis of what the customer needs, and every calculation is prepared by the most suitable group of experts”, Anttila says.
The calculation was prepared using the most recent estimates of the development of future harvesting volumes based on the National Forest Inventory. Road network data was used to identify what impact transportation distances have on the availability of raw material. In order to evaluate sustainable harvesting volumes, it was necessary to consider other regional projects in which the aim was to use thinning wood.
“Finally, all this information is fed into the calculation system in order to produce an estimate of acquisition volumes and costs.”
Growing demand for biomass availability assessments
The project results were presented to representatives of KOSEK last autumn.
“It turned out that, even though the raw material itself is fairly expensive, we can still be competitive. The dialogue continues, and we are now looking for a Finnish partner. Our goal is to have a full-sized biorefinery by the year 2022”, Jungell says.
Jungell has nothing but positive things to say about their cooperation with Luke.
“Success in international markets requires credibility which is hard to come by, except from Luke. All in all, this was a very easy process for the client.”
In addition to Finland, Luke has prepared calculations for international customers.
“These projects have mainly been jointly-funded TEKES and EU projects. In addition, we carried out a customer-funded project for a Spanish company”, Anttila says.
Currently, new projects are waiting for calculations on Anttila’s desk.
“During the past year, we have made more calculations than ever before. It seems that companies are showing genuine interest in biomass refining.”
Text: Maria Latokartano