- Circular Bioeconomy
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North Karelia, with a population of 163,000 inhabitants, is the easternmost region of continental Europe and shares a 300km border with Russia. The strongest industrial sectors are construction, metal industries and the wood, cellulose and carboard industry. North Karelia is home to important forest machinery companies and their strong photonics sector delivers many products and services to the forestry sector. The region is also rich in top wood processing companies and there is activity within the bioenergy market.
89% of the sparsely populated land area is forest, it is therefore no wonder that biomass from forests represents almost all available biomass for North Karelian entrepreneurs. There is about 20,8 tonnes of biomass available for every North Karelian citizen. This available biomass could substitute almost two-thirds (64%) of the materials consumed in North Karelia.
The forest bioeconomy is a vital part of the North Karelian Smart Specialisation Strategy and is characterised by a strongly collaborative environment. North Karelia has a strong innovation profile and a very active forest bioeconomy start-up ecosystem, relative to its population size. Most start-ups function in the wood processing and wood construction sectors.
Forest bioeconomy is the cornerstone of the region’s business and industry sector. North Karelia has strong research and expertise in the forest bioeconomy sector with many contributing actors. Educational organisations, such as the University of Applied Sciences and University of Eastern Finland, research institutes, such as the European Forest Institute, Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) and Finnish Environment institute, companies and other actors all contribute to North Karelian forest bioeconomy knowledge.
The forest bioeconomy plays a key role in the region’s roadmap towards becoming a climate resilient and low carbon region. Presently, the carbon footprint of North Karelians is 36% smaller than that of an average Finn and renewable energy accounts for 64% of the total energy consumption. In 2030, North Karelia wants to be 100% free of fossil oils, have a high as possible share of renewable energy in the total consumption and achieve a net reduction of greenhouse gasses of 80%. They also want their bioeconomy to reach a turnover of €2.7 billion (currently €2 billion).
Within the bioeconomy, North Karelia aims to be a forerunner in wood construction, produce a wide range of value-added bioproducts, create jobs, ensure ecosystem services, have an efficient use of forest industry by-products, climate smart forestry, apply research to business, use digital forest data and provide education at all levels.
The North Karelian Smart Specialisation Strategy consists of two essential parts: 1) New solutions for the forest bioeconomy; 2) Technologies and materials as enablers of growth. Within both parts, six areas of expertise are defined.
Forest bioeconomy is the sector with the strongest research and expertise in North Karelia. As expressed in their Smart Specialisation Strategy, they want to use this opportunity to further develop the forest bioeconomy. The forest bioeconomy sector is characterised by a strongly collaborative environment. The main challenges of the forest bioeconomy sector are the transfer and application of research knowledge to the needs of businesses and the incorporation of an entrepreneurial angle to the sector’s development work. The sector should aim at producing products and services with higher added value. The RIS3 strategy states that “the mobility and transfer of experts from research institutes and educational organisations to companies should be increased and used to create a spill over effect for the entire industry”. Bioregions Facility membership provides North Karelia with additional support to increase entrepreneurship in the forest bioeconomy sector.
Several of North Karelia’s areas of expertise within technologies and materials also have potential in the forest bioeconomy, e.g. photonics, ICT applications and chemistry-related materials expertise.
The North Karelia forest bioeconomy ecosystem can be grouped into ten different categories.