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Will a Nokia-based Business Be the Number One CO2 Capture Operation in the Future?

Having found its home in Nokia, Carbofex aims to capture carbon dioxide in the megatons yearly, in the near future. To reach the goal, the operation needs to be industrialised, and the biochar market has to establish its status, both on a domestic and a global scale.

Founded in the Pirkanmaa region, Carbofex’s operation has had a singular objective from the beginning: to be the largest carbon dioxide capture operation in the world.

The growth company aims to scale its business 25-fold in the next five years. To achieve this, the biochar plants using Carbofex’s technology would have to capture up to 50,000 tons of CO2 per year.

Carbofex moved to Kolmenkulma Eco-Industrial Park last June. It is a significant step toward the lofty goal, as the new facilities make it possible to industrialise the operation and start delivering the biochar plants to the clients.

According to Carbofex CEO Jussi Lemiläinen, the company aims to scale its operations 25-fold during the next five years.

Biochar is an industrial byproduct

Biochar is produced by using biomass, and it is a long-term carbon repository. The filtering capacity of biochar can be used in various ways, for example as a substrate and to absorb phosphorus in agriculture, landfills, industry, and urban environments. Biochar enables phosphorus to stop ending up in nature and municipal wastewater systems.

During seven years, Carbofex has become a pioneer in biochar in Finland, and it has also established its position in Europe. The company has been the first industrial-scale biochar producer in Europe. Carbofex’s plant produces biochar from wood waste using pyrolysis.

– We use quite a lot of wood from the first thinning of a forest. Otherwise it would be left to rot or to be burnt as woodchips. We can also utilise biomasses created as industrial byproducts. In the forest industry, these kinds of biomass are generated for example in mechanical wood processing – in sawing and planing to be precise – and in the paper industry while making pulp, CEO Jussi Lemiläinen says.

– Actually we can utilise almost anything. There are also lots of byproduct streams in agriculture, for example straw, of which a great amount is left in the fields. Wood is the easiest one to come by with.

Up to now, Carbofex has converted almost 10,000 tons of biomass into biochar and stored an equal amount of CO2 back in the ground – for good.

In addition to producing CO2-storing biochar and the technology behind it, Carbofex sells CO2 removal certifications through, the world’s leading crediting platform for engineered carbon removal.

A new home in Nokia

Carbofex operated for five years in Hiedanranta, Tampere before moving to Nokia. The facilities started to feel crowded and weren’t modern enough. Almost a year went by before the new space in Kolmenkulma was found.

– Hiedanranta was the place to develop our processes. The current facilities in Kolmenkulma are built for our needs. They make it possible to scale our operations. Here we also have started to design technology necessary to produce biochar, and we sell it both domestically and abroad. Now we are able to take our operations to an industrial scale, Jussi Lemiläinen states.

Carbofex has made itself at home in Nokia. Kolmenkulma hosts the production unit and woodchip storages that take over 2,000 square metres of space. The building permit also allows expansion in the future if needed.

– There is a long industrial history in Nokia, so we’re a good fit, Lemiläinen says.

At the moment, Carbofex employs about twenty people. Lemiläinen promises that the company, with a strong urge to grow, will create tens of new green tech jobs in Nokia in the coming years, both directly and indirectly.

– We use local partners as much as possible. One of our operating principles is to search for collaborators that are already near us. In addition to that, we are active in different university and research cooperations. Expertise keeps on growing that way in Nokia.

One byproduct of biochar production is surplus heat – green energy that Leppäkosken Energia uses as district heating. Lemiläinen views that in addition to Nokia, the whole Pirkanmaa region benefits from Carbofex’s business.

Welcome, competition

Carbofex has virtually zero competition in Finland.

– We have built the market here, but others are on their way. We warmly welcome them, because that is how the market develops. All in all, we believe that we have a head start on technological development as we have worked with it for five years, Jussi Lemiläinen states.

International competitors of course exist. Lemiläinen believes that the quality of Carbofex’s product is the main difference from them.

– We also have a good reputation abroad, because we have been among the very first ones in this developing industry branch. Our biochar is also the cleanest, measured by various certifications. Due to our position and product quality we have barely had to market our product at all.

– Even so, we cooperate with different standardising agencies such as IBI and EBC. It is work for our brand visibility that enhances the value of the company.

As a part of the brand visibility work, Carbofex has participated in XPRIZE Foundation’s competition for carbon removal, funded by Elon Musk, aiming to curb climate change. The overall prize sum is 100 million dollars. Carbofex has qualified as a finalist in the competition.

Biochar market in Finland is still being established

At the moment the company produces biochar in a quantity that exceeds domestic use. Carbofex exports a lot of its product to Sweden where its use is more advanced and well-established.

– We believe that Finland will follow suit. Uses for biochar are already seen in a wider perspective, and it has been started to be used for example in green construction to control urban runoff. Used as a substrate, biochar enriches the soil by storing nutrients. The potential of biochar in agriculture is just opening up. These are examples of markets that will develop in Finland in the coming years, Jussi Lemiläinen says.

Up until now, biochar had been available in Finland, but not enough applications had been discovered, resulting in a market without opportunities to grow and to establish itself.

A journey to the wider world

Lemiläinen has had an inside view of Carbofex’s development only since September 2022 when he started as a CEO. Before that, the company was led by one of its founders, Sampo Tukiainen.

– I have been involved in many startups, both in Finland and the United States, Jussi Lemiläinen says.

Green transition has long been of interest to Lemiläinen, a part-time forestry entrepreneur, so the transition to Carbofex felt natural.

– Green transition is a major trend. I believe that the biochar market will grow globally. I have been familiar with Carbofex for a long time, and also with its owners and investors. The company has done good and pioneering work in biochar technology and CO2 capture. My job is to make the operation work in an industrial scale, Lemiläinen states.

He tells, that in Europe, Asia, and Northern America there is a lot of interest towards biochar technology.

– We will still take reasonably-sized steps, Lemiläinen says in regards to taking over the world.

Published 17.2.2023.