A new, diverse, and highly researched business can be created around biochar. This is the strong message to the region’s companies and innovators from the BlackGreen biochar programme of North Karelia. The biochar programme, which launched at the end of last year, attracted well over a hundred participants in the webinar. The biochar programme offers companies a great opportunity to get help with research, development and innovation work.

The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), which coordinates the BlackGreen biochar programme, and its partners, University of Eastern Finland, Karelia University of Applied Sciences and Business Joensuu have set an ambitious goal for the work: A significant biochar production centre will be built in North Karelia by cooperating companies. North Karelia is seen as a hub of biochar production and expertise that benefits the entire Finnish bioeconomy sector.

– Biochar is carbon produced artificially from biomass – for example, from hardwood chips and bark. It is not a single product, but a product group suitable for a wide range of uses. Modern reactive carbon is a high value-added material. We are therefore talking about much more than a coal substitute used for heating, says Lauri Sikanen, senior researcher at Luke.

Numerous applications

Biochar has a wide range of applications, such as air and water filtration and purification, composting, soil improvement, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and the battery and metal industries.

– Different applications require different biochar and the suitability of carbon for different applications can already be influenced by production processes and the initial raw material. There is a wide spectrum of possibilities for the production and utilisation of biochar, says Professor Ari Pappinen from the University of Eastern Finland.

Although the benefits of biochar are known, so far there have been few commercial producers. Good quality biochar has suffered from availability problems; production has been unstable and production volumes have been small.

– For example, steel companies have a strong desire to make steel production green, and biochar is also an opportunity for that. However, the production volumes of the steel industry are so large that their needs will not be met with the current production volumes, Sikanen explains.

The steel industry represents the extreme end of large volumes, but there is great potential for the smaller size biochar business in the market. The BlackGreen biochar programme now wants to seize this opportunity. At the heart of creating and strengthening the North Karelian biochar cluster is to provide strong expertise and support to companies.

– Biochar production could be equated, for example, with plastic groats, from which, under Perlos, a large production cluster grew in North Karelia. The same could be possible for biochar. At this point, I would like to emphasize the message to companies: No idea about biochar is too small that it should not be explored with the support of the biochar programme.

Stronger through cooperation

Launched in November 2020, the BlackGreen programme will continue until the end of February 2023. We are in the start-up phase, where we welcome the widest possible range of companies, innovations and new businesses into the programme.

– There is high class expertise in forest bioscience and seamless cooperation between different operators in North Karelia. All parties involved in the biochar programme are constantly cooperating with companies doing mapping of markets and technologies, product development, optimisation of production processes and logistics, and climate impact assessments, says Timo Tahvanainen, Development Manager from Business Joensuu.

– Companies that are already operating or are willing to grow and expand, or are moving here are not left alone, but are supported by the whole network, Tahvanainen promises.
The biochar programme consists of seven work packages: biochar products and markets, biochar production and properties, biochar raw materials and their availability, biochar logistics, biochar LCA, industrial symbioses and new business, and biochar communications.

– Feedback from the biochar webinar held at the end of March gave us a clear impression that the need for information is great. Interest in biochar production and industrial cooperation, as well as markets and new applications, became top themes, says Markus Hirvonen, a project expert at Karelia University of Applied Sciences.

Pilot factory for Iiksenvaara

In December last year, the energy company Savon Voima Oy and the wealth management and investment company Taaleri Oyj announced their intention to build a biochar factory in Joensuu. The factory, which will produce about 60,000 tonnes of biochar per year, is to be built on the site of the Iiksenvaara electric and thermal power plant.

This is a factory investment of approximately EUR 15 million. Production is planned to start as early as next year and a separate company, Joensuun Biohiili Oy, has been established for this purpose. Most of the biochar produced is intended to be used as a substitute for coal. In addition to heating material, Taaleri Oyj also aims to enter the market for further processed products.

If completed, the Iiksenvaara factory would be a pilot project for Taaleri Oyj. The company says it is most likely to build its next biochar factories in Europe and North America.
BlackGreen is a project co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund and the Regional Council of North Karelia. More information about the BlackGreen biochar program can be found at blackgreen.karelia.fi.

Additional information:

Natural Resources Institute Finland
Lauri Sikanen
Senior Researcher
+358 295 322 464
lauri.sikanen@luke.fi

University of Eastern Finland
Ari Pappinen
Professor
+ 358 50 438 2527
ari.pappinen@uef.fi

Business Joensuu Oy
Timo Tahvanainen
Development Manager
+358 50 443 2950
timo.tahvanainen@businessjoensuu.fi