A leader in new innovative energy solutions

Sandwiched between Sweden and Russia, Finland is known for its icy lakes, wild reindeer and bright northern lights. In this country, saunas are a big part of everyday life. A sauna is a bath involving a spell in a hot steamy room which is usually heated to about 70-100 degrees Celsius with a humidity that doesn’t exceed 20%, and regulated by good fresh air and water on hot stones. A steamy bath is seen as a necessity, not a luxury – which might explain why this country has over three million saunas. 

But that is not all there is to Finland. In 2015, Finland was, by Transparency International standards, one of the least corrupt countries in the world – behind only to Denmark. Finland is also the most forested land in Europe with forests covering about 80% of the country’s land area. What is more admirable is how Finland’s five and half million inhabitants – a population that can easily fit into Lusaka – manage its greatest resource: its forest. The forest is to Finland what copper is to Zambia – a foreign exchange earner.

While many countries struggle to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, and increase energy from renewable sources, Finland seems to be doing something right. 

The tiny Nordic country is a bio energy success story. According to Finnish Energy, an organisation that represents companies in the energy sector, last year, 79% of the electricity generated in Finland (66.2 TWh) was greenhouse gas free or carbon-neutral. The share of renewable energy sources now stands at 45% while the share of indigenous fuels is 50%.

A country deprived of fossil fuels and many other natural resources, Finland is betting its energy future on a combination of sustainable forest bioenergy, nuclear energy and hydro power, with wood and wood byproducts making up the lion’s share. 

Being a small country, it has always relied on thinking smart about resources. Forests cover nearly 80% of the land. This makes wood the Finnish bioeconomy’s number one currency.

Much of Finland’s bioenergy commitment is spurred by its lack of domestic alternatives, and many of the conditions that contribute to its success in biomass are unique to its geography, vegetation and long tradition of forestry and wood energy. 

At Nokianvirran Energia Oy’s power plant in a small town of Nokia, the newest of the three boiler plants – the bioenergy plant HK16 uses solid waste fuels (wood chips, forest residue, bark, saw dust and stumb). The plant has replaced natural gas used in the two other boiler plants and increased the use of domestic energy sources, says company CEO, Mika Pekinnen.

“The EUR 45 million new bioplant will reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of Nokia’s energy production by 60,000 to 80,000 tons per year,” he says. 

“In addition to low cost domestic fuels, byproduct stream from SCA Hygiene Products Ab’s tissue paper manufacture, such as biosludge, deinking sludge, are used as fuel in the bioboiler.” 

Nokianvirran Energia is owned by SCA along with Leppakosken Sahko Oy and Nokian Tyres Plc. It distributes energy to the district heat network in the city of Nokia as well as the factories of SCA and Nokian Tyres.

Finland’s success in tapping its forests for fuel comes from a combination of ancient attitudes, modern technology, and management practices, with a generous helping of government and industry support. Wood energy is nothing new – it’s the planet’s oldest fuel and the primary energy source today for approximately 3 billion people worldwide. But most of them are in developing countries, and Finland is an example of a savvy, modern and well-to-do nation using bioenergy on an industrial scale.

After all, this is the country that developed Nokia, the first market leader in mobile communication devices. It is home to Stora Enso, the largest paper manufacturer in the world and super-cell a hot new mobile game developer known for Hay Day and Clash of Clans. 

It’s tough going, extracting biofuels from wood, but the people in this small Nordic country have never backed down from a challenge.  

“There is need to be more energy efficient because the world is running out of resources,” says Dr. Aino-Maija Lakaniemi from Department of Chemistry Bioengineering at Tampere University of Technology (TUT) in Finland. “We need to develop new and sustainable processes for resource recovery and for the development of renewable energy harvesting technology.”

Power plants are placed near forests to cut costs of transporting materials to power plants. Finland has biomass energy plants and boilers all over the country, close to wooded areas, that range in size from under 25 Megawatts (MW) to more than 100 MW – double the size of plants in the U.S. The number of small plants has multiplied, adding significantly to the wood-based heat and electricity production adjacent to industrial pulp and paper plants and sawmills. 

Modern technology is making it possible for countries like Finland which has heavily invested in development and research to achieve great things. For example, incineration technology (see side story) is making it possible for waste to be turned into energy. Companies like Westenergy has a plant of the most modern cut which converts the energy from incineration into electricity and district heat by the local energy company – Vaasan Sahko. The plant produces about 13 MW of electricity which powers part of Vaasa city in the north of Finland. 

Westenergy is a non-profit company owned by five municipal waste treatment companies. The municipalities that, in turn, own the waste treatment companies, form Westenergy’s area of operations. Approximately 185,000 tons of waste – plastic, paper, metal in a year is collected from 400,000 inhabitants from 50 municipalities. To be able to incinerate such quantity of waste, the plant runs 24/7 year round.    

Finland has succeeded in the energy sector because both the energy-dependent industry and the government have invested millions of Euros in research. 

An important driver of these public investments in bioenergy is the ambitious commitment to renewable energy that Finland has made as a member of the European Union (EU). The production of wood chips still receives some subsidies, and subsidies are provided for investments into wood-based power and heat production. 

Finland is highly rated in international comparisons on the cooperation between companies and universities, and the research and development activities in Tempere, the country’s third largest city are the most ambitious. Product development in companies hardly ever happens behind closed doors – instead experts from different quarters are involved. The energy research activities in Tampere are powered by the Tampere University of Technology (TUT). 

Professor Ulla Ruotsalainen, Vice President of TUT says the university is a forerunner in the university-industry collaboration and it produces technology for the benefit of people and the environment. 

“The university is involved in active transfer of research results and new technologies to industry through R&D (research and development) projects conducted in collaboration with companies,” says Ilkka Virtanen, the university’s International Relations Manager. The research platform for the energy industry is developing at a fast rate and it seems the only limitation to what is possible is imagination.

Companies like ABB and Wärtsilä which provide equipment, energy solutions and services have fully been supported by the research efforts of the universities and they in turn have investment in research and development. “ABB is power and automation for utilities, industries, transportation and infrastructure and work globally,” says Antti Hakala-Ranta, Senior Vice President, Medium Voltage Products. “Behind this, is how really do we develop the project and we’re really proud of that. We have more than eight and half thousand (850,000) people working in research and development and spending US$ 1.5 billion for that.”

As Ilkka Virtanen, TUT says, “new technologies are easily applied and distributed to new areas,…  Africa probably is (should be) the first (of the) adopters.” 

Ethiopia has responded to new trends and tapped into Finland’s technology. The Reppie waste-to-energy plant being built in Addis Ababa is expected to receive 1,400 tons of municipal waste a day, representing an annual waste-disposal capacity of 420,000 tons, and will be a vital waste disposal and renewable-electricity generation facility for the city of Addis Ababa. 

Located only 5 miles from the African Union (AU) Headquarters, Reppie will help the City clear close to three-quarters of its daily waste generation in an efficient and environmentally-friendly manner, whilst at the same time producing an expected electricity production capacity of 185 GWh per year. The facility is designed with a redundant energy generation and evacuation system for added reliability and extended operation. By diverting waste from landfills and by adhering to the strict European environmental standards for waste to energy, the Reppie facility will be a showcase for other cities and countries across Africa.  

Will Zambia follow suit? It remains to be seen. Talks between Doranova, a Finnish company, and Lusaka City Council (LCC) to turn the largest waste site in Chunga area into the country’s first waste-to-energy plant are not progressing as they should. Doranova is an expert in turning waste into valuable energy and raw materials. 

Waste is a word that indicates something that is not wanted, something leftover and of no use. Yes, it is, but Finland is showing that in today’s world were resources are scarce, waste cannot just remain waste. It can be turned into a useful resource.

Yes, with good technology, it is possible to get fuel from undesirable garbage. Technology makes it possible for the quality of the waste fuel to be improved by continuously mixing it in the waste bunker. This is done by a large mixing grab. But people can help by already sorting out the waste in their homes – e.g by not putting biowaste, metal or hazardous waste together.

The process of producing energy from waste starts with tracks dropping off waste at the discharge hall, which feeds into the bunker. From the waste bunker, the waste is fed into the furnace for incineration. Through the grate, which is the bottom of the furnace, air is blown onto the fire to achieve a higher incineration temperature. The higher temperature gives a cleaner incineration and a more effective energy production. Hot flue gases from the furnace are led to the boiler where water in the boiler pipes is heated to steam. The hot high pressure is used to produce electricity and district heat. 

The steam is led to the turbine and drives it. The turbine is connected to the generator which transforms the kinetic energy into electricity that is fed to the electrical grid. After this phase, the steam is led to the condensers. In the condensers, the heat from the steam is transferred to district heat water that is fed to the district heat grid. 

The annual production of electricity at Westenergy (See main story) covers the electric needs of about 7,000 households, and the produced district heat covers about a third of the district heat need of the city of Vaasa.

The flue gases that heat up the boiler water are not needed anymore after this step. Before they can be let out through the stack, they need to be cleaned from pollutants. Some pollutants are eliminated already in the furnace, the rest are removed in the flue gas cleaning system. Chemicals, to which the pollutants adhere, added to the flue gases, and this chemical dust is then filtered out in a fabric filter. More than 99% of the pollutants are removed. The low levels of pollutants left are continuously measured. 


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