“As bioeconomy is evolving it requires new thinking not only from technology evolvement perspective, but business models and facilitator role’s need to be rethought as well”. To say it in this exclusive interview with The BioJournal is Jukka Kantola, Ceo of KaiCell Fibers, a Finnish bio-industry company breaking new ground in sustainable value creation.
Interview by Mario Bonaccorso
Mr Kantola, KaiCell Fibers intends to build a state-of-the-art sulphate pulp mill as the core component in a bio-industrial park in the Kainuu Region. It is worth noting that over 90% of Kainuu’s forests are certified, thus ensuring a world-class wood sourcing base. What is the state of the art of your project?
State of the art is the holistic approach we applied in several levels. First of all we are focusing on value-added products superseding oil-based materials. Arbron™ is a new type of material, method and product used in textiles, where it enables viscose manufacturing without hazardous chemicals. Another evolving cultivated product is bio-composite.
Secondly BioFutureFactory™ BFF is new platform thinking getting bio-operators together utilizing bio-streams, utilities and infra services provided by BFF. This means easier access for companies tap into bio-streams economically and reasonable volumes. For institutes this gives an opportunity to speed up development work from lab scale to commercialization.
Last but not least all this is based on sustainable, abundant and well-fostered wood resources. Our approach is based on local fiber, which means that feedstock is secured in the proximity of the mill from certificated, well-maintained and abundant forests. KaiCell feedstock is within 100 km radius. As transportation is the major source for CO2-emissions, in Kaicell-case carbon footprint is minimized. For example if haulage distance increases from 100 km to 300 km, this will mean 200% more carbon emissions.
Have you already signed agreements with potential partners and/or customers?
Yes we have. Due confidentially agreements we cannot reveal details at this stage. I can only say that when it comes to textile application we are working with major viscose giant side by side. In the BioFuture Factory we are having several NDA partners among companies and institutes. Companies are seeking sustainable sources for their feedstock and institutes ways to speeding up their development ideas. We have all in all 22 bio-streams of which we have all details in place like volumes, specifications and prices. Our role is to make it easier for companies to tap in bio-streams and speed up commercialization of ideas and development work from institutes.
Finland has a very ambitious plan for developing bioeconomy: to increase its turnover from 60 billion euro in 2015 to 100 billion in 2025. How are public institutions promoting the business of your company?
Public institutions are developing their services. This is also a learning process for them. Some national funds are finding their way to get accustomed for the new situation, where there are new operators emerging based on wood. Traditionally this sector has been close linked with established business operators and few start-ups have been occurred.
As bioeconomy is evolving it requires new thinking not only from technology evolvement perspective, but business models and facilitator role’s need to be rethought as well. New players are only speeding development of the sector. Transition as such is something new and sometimes we all are too stick on past and status quo structures. Renewing requires that endorsement and funds are open also for game-changers.
In many ways, Finland is the home of innovation coming to the market. How important is a good relationship between companies and research centers to foster the development of the bioeconomy?
This is extremely important as dealing with new, emerging applications. By close collaboration and clear roles new product innovations can be speeded up into commercialization. That is exactly what is about BioFutureFactory™. Also when it comes to cultivated bioproducts we are in close collaboration for example with Aalto University. They just opened Aalto BioProduct Center ABion, where several bio-streams can be tested and developed. It is then industry’s role to give them platform for commercialisation.
In ICT-sector close collaboration and open innovation has been applied for years creating flow of new ideas and new applications. Certainly there are sector specific imperatives, but with BFF we have had a look out sector to get lessons in place. This is one way to accelerate development of bioeconomy and its related ecosystem.
What is the perception of the bioeconomy and the circular economy by the Finnish public opinion?
Public opinion is very much endorsing both bioeconomy and circular economy. Only recently there have been some researchers especially in the forestry sector who would like to question all that valuable work, which have been done for forestry and its sustainable use.
Finland is covering only half per cent of the global forests so despite high forest density we cannot unfortunately resolve all global greenhouse issues. Growing forests are the best way to capture the carbon and by fostering forests, “carbon pump” is operating most efficiently. As in gardening you sometimes need to cut in order to give room for a growth. In terminal phase, forests do not emit only CO2, but even more harmful methane accelerating greenhouse effect. Finland forest growth has over doubled within 40 years and at the same time utilization has only increased half of that amount. So there is plenty of potential to further increase wood consumption in a sustainable way and new investments based on novel bio-applications are more than welcomed.
Circular economy is high on agenda in general. Sitra has just organised World Circular Economy Forum in Helsinki with 1500 participants all over the world. This only underlines stance on circular economy in Finland.