Solving big challenges calls for joint efforts and bold R&D investments


Text by Petri Lehmus, Vice President R&D, Neste Corporation / Member of the Board, SusChem Finland

Climate change is often referred to as the largest common challenge of mankind. Looking at the steep increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, it becomes evident that we are currently facing unprecedented times. A concerted global wide effort is needed to control and curb the rapid increase of CO2. For this we need speed, as concrete impact is what counts. Therefore, it’s important to fully utilize solutions that are available already today. In addition, we also need new solutions, as not one solution alone is sufficient to achieve the necessary impact. Transforming the society from fossil to renewable and more circular will take its time, but is possible - step by step, decision by decision.

Resolving significant future challenges by boosting R&D work and innovation investments is a target to aim for. This is what Business Finland set as an aim when it challenged Finnish companies and selected three winners from a competition. Neste was one of them and the others were Fortum and Metsä Group for new fibre-based products with reduced carbon footprint and Nokia for industrial 5G networks. Neste aims to develop sustainable and globally scalable raw materials and technology solutions for transportation fuels and the production of chemicals and polymers. The solutions are based on waste or residue raw materials, such as forestry or agricultural residues, municipal waste, waste plastics and carbon dioxide. They will all decrease the use of crude oil and contribute to the overall impact for tackling climate change on a global scale. 

Developing these new solutions is demanding. It requires cross-industrial and multi-disciplinary competence, which is built together with partners in industry and academia. The funding of Business Finland supports building necessary competence clusters and ecosystems with partners and Neste respectively will boost its own research activities.  Technology development is not a desktop study, as learning and validating new technologies come through piloting and demonstration. Being faster and bolder means readiness to take risks, i.e.readiness to invest without a guarantee of returns. Assumptions are important and need to be made, but should not limit imagination. What doesn’t look feasible today, could become a solution in the future. Sustainability and scalability are key drivers for moving forward, while scientific fundamentals set the technology frame and economics and regulation set the possible pace for growth.

The Business Finland funding is an example of how public and private money are used together to improve the speed and probability of success in solving big challenges like combating climate change through necessary competence build-up and boosting research and development. Similar endeavours around the globe give us hope that mankind is clever enough to survive by joining its efforts. No-one can solve big challenges alone. It is something we must do together.

SusChem Finland

SusChem Finland’s vision is to promote carbon neutrality by circular economy and bioeconomy through chemical and biotech innovations. We want to promote sustainable chemistry’s solutions and its voice in the society.

Priorities 2020
  • Communication on the role of chemistry and biotech innovations in the mitigation of climate change and boosting the circular and bioeconomy
  • Increasing the attraction of a career in the field of chemistry and biotechnology  among young people
  • The role of sustainable chemistry innovations in different industrial sectors, e.g. in the forest industry and in the technology industry.