The Aalto University students Mikko Niemeläinen and Milla-Mari Vastavuo have won Wood U Make It Happen?, the innovation contest run by the Finnish Forest Industries Federation. They developed Relaps, an ecosystem which uses the waste heat and mineral streams generated in pulp mills in smart greenhouse farming.
– Our innovation is firmly rooted in the circular economy philosophy: we want to find a use for the residual streams that previously went to waste. What’s more, Relaps offers food production a model for responding to the pressures of a growing population and climate change, Niemiläinen and Vastavuo say.
They both think that Finland boasts extremely high-level knowhow in greenhouse technology and the forest industry, and that in the future these two areas can cooperate to create previously unseen opportunities for food production.
– We sought advice from experts in a range of sectors and put it all together. The circular economy philosophy is not new in the forest industry, but combining it with greenhouse production across the board is. You just have to dare to experiment and play with even the maddest of ideas, without preconceptions, the two students say.
Timo Jaatinen, director general of the Finnish Forest Industries Federation, says the winning entry has good prospects and potential for being scaled up.
– An ecosystem like Relaps takes a fresh approach to food production and energy consumption. It tackles the challenges created by global megatrends, such as environmental problems and population growth, head on, Jaatinen says.
An innovation contest that looks to the future
The top three contestants were awarded on 4 December at Finnish Forest Industries Federation’s centenary celebration, where one of the themes was renewal and looking to the future.
– Right now, the whole forest industry is looking for ways to produce more sustainable options for consumers. With their solutions, the contestants have shown that the future of the forest industry is already being built, says Jaatinen.