“Everything that is fossil-based today can be made from wood in the future”
A circular bio-based economy was on the agenda of the National Innovation Council when it met on 1 September 2016. The Government is working on several processes linked to this area. Karl-Henrik Sundström, CEO and Managing Director of Stora Enso, is a member of the Council and spoke at the meeting about how a circular bio-based economy affects Sweden's development and competitiveness.
How would you describe a circular bio-based economy?
The bioeconomy is renewable and fossil-free. It is based on biomass, such as timber, which is refined and turned into bio-based products and commodities. Circular ecocycles are stimulated by bio-based products where there are economic and environmental benefits. Cardboard and paper made from recycled materials are examples of this. All recycling starts with fresh biomass or fibre.
What potential do you see in this area, and above all, how can it be developed?
The potential of the bioeconomy is enormous. It is important, not least for dealing with climate problems. I normally say that everything that is fossil-based today can be made from wood in the future. Forests grow constantly and are a good basis for innovation. Intensive research is currently under way to devise new areas of use based on renewable materials and long-term sustainable products with less of an environmental impact. The forestry industry can and wants to play an important role. Development of the forest-based part of the bioeconomy is based on the products, material and solid fuels that we are already producing today – this is where the transformation and upscaling begins.
How does a circular bio-based economy affect Sweden's development and competitiveness?
The forest-based part of the bioeconomy is already Sweden's largest net earner of export currency, with a 90 per cent share of exports for the forestry industry and a 70 per cent share of exports for the sawmill industry. This is a cornerstone of prosperity. The bioeconomy is also linked to land area and provides revenue for all of Sweden; forests are everywhere, and the sawmill and pulp/paper industry are often the only industry in small rural municipalities.
In your view, what are currently the biggest obstacles to transitioning to a more circular bio-based economy?
We need greater understanding of the forest's role as an industry. Forests must be used in a sustainable way, applying freedom with responsibility. Regulatory frameworks in Sweden and the EU must not jeopardise this. We also need functioning transport systems throughout Sweden to distribute timber and products. The railway and road networks have to be modernised. We cannot afford to jeopardise the bioeconomy with SEK 2 billion per year in road wear costs, equivalent to more than 20 000 jobs and SEK 20 billion in investments.
How can the Government's National Innovation Council contribute to work on the transition?
It can contribute to a greater understanding of the major importance of forests in the transition to a fossil-free society. But also through a focus on research in biorefining and biomaterial. Research into the construction of wooden buildings and facilitating the construction of wooden buildings are other key areas.
What was the most important message you communicated at the Council's meeting?
The potential for Stora Enso and the forestry industry to contribute to a green and better future! But also the threats – the most tangible one right now being the costs of road wear.