Desperately seeking green energy

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To reach its new long-term goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by four-fifths, Finland needs to exploit new bioenergy technologies

These could also boost exports.

The recently approved government foresight report on long-term climate and energy policy sets a highly ambitious target to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of their 1990-level by 2050. To reach this goal, ways must be found to replace the fossil fuels still widely burnt in Finnish industry, power plants, homes and vehicles.

With three proposals for new nuclear reactors on the government’s table, atomic power will probably make up a larger share of the future energy mix, but environmentalists remain adamant that nuclear power is ultimately unsustainable and should not be seen as the solution to climate change.

Even with higher nuclear capacity, the goal of a “low-carbon Finland” will be hard to reach without dramatic improvements in energy efficiency and the use of carbon-neutral renewable energy sources such as wind power and bioenergy.

Bioenergy boom

Minister of the Environment Paula Lehtomäki likes to look on the bright side of the challenge of global climate change. “Global efforts to mitigate climate change are an opportunity for Finland to benefit from our innovative technologies in fields like bioenergy, energy efficiency and waste management. Growth in these areas can result in many new jobs and exports,” she says.

Finland’s forest industries already have a long history of using surplus wood and wood-based black liquor from the pulp-making process to generate carbon-neutral bioenergy. Finnish bioenergy businesses also aim to build up production of wood pellets, biogas from farm wastes and liquid biofuels distilled from organic wastes.

New Nokias

“The worldwide potential for Finnish technologies is enormous, and many new Nokias could be born in this sector,” says Kim Wiio, managing director of St1, who have devised ways to use food industry wastes to produce bioethanol to fuel existing road vehicles.

The ongoing biofuel boom has been criticised for leading to food shortages and the clearing of rainforests to create oil palm plantations. “It is vital to look at impacts throughout the whole life cycle of biofuels, but there are plenty of sources of biomass that can be used sustainably,” says Wiio.

Green coal for China

Another Finnish company, Preseco, has developed a product known as biocarbon which looks and burns like coal, but can be made out of all kinds of organic material. Preseco is planning a joint venture in China’s Hubei Province that will make biocarbon from surplus rice straw. “The potential global market for biocarbon as a fossil-carbon-free coal substitute is massive,” says managing director Mikko Kantero.

Finland’s national technology funding agency Tekes has widely invested in ambitious programmes supporting the development of new biofuels. A favourable domestic market could help budding renewable energy businesses to grow. Green groups have called on the government to support Finnish producers of bioenergy and wind power with “feed-in tariffs” guaranteeing a good price for electricity they feed into the grid. Such tariffs have so far only been granted to firms burning peat – even though in climate change terms peat is widely considered to be as harmful as fossil fuels.

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