The bioeconomy and the circular economy complement each other, but their approaches are different. These concepts are similar in that both are based on utilising resources more efficiently and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Both seek to decrease the use of fossil-based sources of energy and increase the value of waste and side streams as raw material.
- In the bioeconomy, renewable natural resources are used for the production of food, energy, products and services. Its goals are to decrease our dependence on fossil natural resources, to prevent the weakening of ecosystems and to facilitate economic development by creating new jobs according to the principles of sustainability. For example, the use of bio-based natural resources and clean technology that protect the environment, as well as the efficient recycling of materials, are all characteristic of the bioeconomy.
- The circular economy is an economic model in which new goods are not continuously produced; consumption is based on recycling, sharing and renting, rather than owning. Its operating models include repairing, re-using, sharing, recycling, leasing, and product and service design aimed at minimising waste and wastage. In the industrial symbioses of the circular economy, entities consisting of multiple companies provide added value to each other through the efficient use of raw materials, technology, services and energy. One company’s waste or production side stream may become another company’s raw material.
The bioeconomy can be part of the circular economy
Understanding these terms is complicated by the fact that the bioeconomy makes up a part of the circular economy, but not all bioeconomy is circular economy. Utilising the side streams of the forest industry is an example of an area of the bioeconomy that is also part of the circular economy. In the same way, the use of raw materials in products that are more valuable than usual, replace virgin raw materials, have a long useful life and bind carbon (such as wood-based textiles and biocomposites) is part of the circular economy.
Within the forest industry, people today talk about a circular bioeconomy, since in many processes and functions the resources are circulated. The forest industry in general is based on several types of circulation.
“In my opinion, ‘bioeconomy’ is a clear term, as the word ‘bio’ already refers to something that is renewable. When one tree is felled as a part of the forest industry, four new trees are planted in its place. Renewability is nature’s own circular economy,” says Kaija Pehu-Lehtonen, who is responsible for business development at Metsä Fibre.
The Äänekoski bioproduct mill is a prime example of bioeconomy
You get a particularly good picture of the circulation of the bioeconomy’s resources within processes and functions when looking at, for instance, the operations of the Äänekoski bioproduct mill and their significance within their bioeconomy. Its core consists of an efficient pulp mill, further expanded by a network of companies around the mill manufacturing a variety of bioproducts.
“The bioproduct mill is a prime example of a business ecosystem in the bioeconomy. The basic idea of the bioproduct mill concept is that renewable wood raw material is utilised 100% and production side streams are used efficiently as pulp and other bioproducts. They, in turn, can be used to replace fossil materials and fuels,” says Ilkka Poikolainen, Vice President, Äänekoski bioproduct mill.
In accordance with the principles of the bioeconomy, the side streams of the Äänekoski bioproduct mill that cannot be converted into new products are used for the production of renewable energy. The mill produces more bioenergy than a traditional pulp mill and does not use fossil fuels in its pulp production.
Bioproducts have a huge future potential
Metsä Group’s products, made from renewable wood from northern forests, provide an alternative to the exploitation of fossil-based raw materials.
“We have raw material obtained from sustainable sources and an advanced closed cycle for both chemicals and water in our production,” says Pehu-Lehtonen.
“We are using energy, water, materials and chemicals very efficiently. We can talk about a closed cycle or recycling; the same principle can be described in different ways. This has been business as usual for us for a long time – circulation was already part of the forest industry’s processes years before the terms bioeconomy and circular economy were introduced.”
Metsä Fibre is investigating a number of new products and product paths that are already progressing in stages. Networks and business partners play a major role in this.
“New bioproducts have significant future potential,” Poikolainen says.