The booming hydrogen economy has found a solid foothold in the Baltic Sea region, with Southern Finland and Estonia at its heart. Spearheading this cross-border hydrogen valley initiative is the EU-supported BalticSeaH2 project, an ambitious endeavor involving all Baltic Sea countries except Russia.
By establishing the first significant transnational European hydrogen valley, BalticSeaH2 aims to curtail carbon emissions and enhance energy self-sufficiency. Southern Finland and Estonia possess a strategic advantage owing to their prime location, bolstered by existing infrastructure such as a natural gas pipeline, electricity grid, and a thriving maritime sector that is actively progressing towards carbon neutrality.
One shining example of groundbreaking projects within the CLIC Innovation ecosystem is the collaborative partnership with Gasgrid Finland, which serves as the coordinator for the hydrogen valley. CLIC Innovation, a non-profit organization, serves as the unifying force behind a network of businesses and research institutions committed to advancing bioeconomy, circular economy, and energy systems.
Jatta Jussila, the CEO of CLIC Innovation, sheds light on the formidable obstacles that have impeded the development of the green hydrogen economy. She points out the daunting chicken-and-egg problem, where progress in the hydrogen economy is stymied by the absence of infrastructure, while the construction of infrastructure itself is hindered by the lack of active stakeholders.
Jussila emphasizes the indispensable need for collaboration among diverse actors and concerted actions to propel substantial advancements in transitioning to a hydrogen-based economy.
Benefits for the whole Europe
CLIC Innovation, incepted in 2015, has fostered a robust ecosystem comprising 30 international companies and 16 universities or research institutions. Their collective mission is to pioneer sustainable solutions across the domains of bioeconomy, circular economy, and energy systems.
The formation of CLIC Innovation was made possible through support from the state-funded Strategic Centers for Science, Technology, and Innovation (SHOK) program, which sought to galvanize Finnish research and development activities during the early 2000s. Presently, funding for the network is derived from participating companies and research institutions, in addition to project-specific grants.
The impact of this ecosystem transcends its immediate stakeholders, as it strives to cultivate widespread expertise in sustainable development and foster a culture of innovation. BalticSeaH2 stands as a prime exemplar of how CLIC’s far-reaching programs can flourish, benefiting not only the Baltic Sea region but also the entirety of Europe.
Sustainable and recyclable packaging
Within the CLIC ecosystem, the SUSBINCO project has emerged as a trailblazer, revolutionizing packaging materials, coatings, and binders to be sustainable and recyclable. Conquering the challenges of replacing plastics in food packaging, where freshness preservation and the prevention of chemical transfer are paramount, SUSBINCO leverages a broad coalition of companies from the forest, paint, sanding, and chemical industries alongside leading research institutions. Jussila aptly highlights the timeliness of this project in light of the EU’s circular economy target, mandating that all packaging be reusable or recyclable by 2030.
More dialogue and trust needed
Another noteworthy venture, where CLIC Innovation plays a crucial role, is the Helsinki-Uusimaa Circular Valley, a dynamic collaboration of experts, companies, municipalities, and organizations spanning diverse sectors. This bold initiative, led by the Helsinki-Uusimaa Regional Council in close cooperation with CLIC, aims to position the region as a global leader in the circular economy, propelling Helsinki-Uusimaa towards the forefront of innovation.
Jussila proudly underscores the extensive dialogue fostered between public and private actors within this circular valley, which serves as a model for effective collaboration. To further strengthen these partnerships, CLIC organizes co-development workshops and employs methodologies designed to cultivate trust among ecosystem participants.
Jussila underscores the crucial role that trust plays in this collaborative landscape, recognizing that some companies may face challenges in determining the boundaries of operational transparency.
Self-sufficient and renewable energy system
Jussila believes that the journey towards a comprehensive circular economy is still long, acknowledging that many items still go unrecycled. However, she remains hopeful that a significant leap towards a more sustainable future is within reach.
One pressing challenge lies in the fragmentation of sustainable development initiatives and innovation systems, where the proliferation of roadmaps lacking harmonization threatens comprehensive progress. CLIC Innovation’s overarching purpose is to facilitate a transformative shift at the systemic level, propelling sustainable development through inclusive dialogue.
In Jussila’s visionary outlook, fossil-based raw materials will be phased out, making way for a self-sufficient and renewable energy system. She envisions Finland not only as an exporter of synthetic renewable energy products but also as a trailblazer propelling a new era of national economic growth.
As the location of Southern Finland and Estonia emerges as an ideal hub for the hydrogen valley, leveraging existing infrastructure in the Gulf of Finland, the prospects for sustainable innovation in the region appear brighter than ever.