When Tampere and Tampere Region’s ECoC bid team holds a large meeting with the region’s culture professionals and activists, the venue is often Kuivaamo in Hiedanranta, situated at the borough of Lielahti, Tampere.
And why? Kuivaamo in itself is a fantastic space and a centre of community activities. What’s more, Kuivaamo might be the only meeting venue in the world with carbon-negative heating.
This means that the heating of the venue captures more carbon dioxide than it releases, doing its small bit to curb climate change. Fighting against climate change is one of our ECoC bid’s core values.
Carbon Hackers on the Loose
This feat was accomplished by the activated carbon facility Carbofex, located across the yard from Kuivaamo.
“We hacked into the cycle of carbon,” Carbofex CEO Sampo Tukiainen says.
Behind Sampo Tukiainen, sacks of Carbofex’s main product, biochar. 95 % of the biochar produced is exported. The facility sells 100% of its output.
Carbofex’s modest-looking building contains a pyrolysis unit, a chunk of machinery roughly the size of a lorry. It removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by carbonizing biomass, sequestering half of the carbon acquired through photosynthesis permanently into the biochar. Biochar will not be combusted, but instead used for such purposes as soil amendment.
To put it more simply: If wood is burnt or left to decompose in the nature, its carbon dioxide will be released back into the atmosphere. But when wood is turned into biochar, the carbon dioxide will be stored in it for almost an eternity.
Understandable. But producing biochar does require wood that needs to be chopped down? Isn’t that controversial?
“Our raw material is mainly spruce and more precisely thinning wood. This wood might otherwise be used as fuelwood. Often, the wood is left to decompose in the forest, as retrieving it is not seen as cost-effective,” Tukiainen explains.
“This is a conflict-free raw material, essentially a by-product of forestry. The wood isn’t chopped down for our benefit,” he adds.
The renowned graffiti artist Octo created an impressive mural to enhance the walls of Carbofex’s modest production facility. ”It may have turned out a bit rougher than we anticipated, but it’s great,” Sampo Tukiainen laughs.
Heating as a Bonus
The carbon-negative heating is a bonus in this process. Biochar production creates residual heat which is carbon negative. Some of this heat is transferred straight across the yard to heat Kuivaamo. The rest is sold to Tampereen Sähkölaitos to be used for district heating.
“We are creating enough residual heat to heat approximately 300 houses or 30 small blocks of flats. What we have here is the largest carbon-negative district heating facility in the world,” Tukiainen notes.
Annually, the current Carbofex facility uses approximately 6,000 solid cubic metres of logging residue. The facility removes up to 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, compensating the carbon emissions of approximately 250 Finnish consumers.
The company has a letter of intent from Tampereen Sähkölaitos to build a facility 10 times this capacity.
There are even more benefits to the miraculous biochar. It can be used to filter wastewater. Not far from the Carbofex facility, biochar is being used to filter landfill runoff. The biochar filters out 95% of phosphorus. In the future, biochar can also be used to remove toxic cyanobacteria from the waters.
Anyone with a holiday home can also try biochar as an outhouse litter. Any odours will disappear.
Everything revealed at the beginning is already reality and true. However, Sampo Tukiainen has even greater visions for the future.
“This facility is already running so well, we could just keep running this and make a decent living. Why don’t we just do that? Because we want to save the world.”
So far, there is only the one facility.
“During the next 20 years, we want to produce 2 million of these facilities. The only way is to mass produce them like cars in factories.”
Tukiainen has proposed to the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners that farmers should establish cooperatives to build biochar plants. They could utilize the straw material that is currently left unused.
Tukiainen has calculated that straws from 1,000 hectares of field would be enough to run one facility.
“Currently the cost of one facility is approximately one million euros. This shouldn’t be thought of as an expense but an investment. It constantly generates income. It produces biochar and heat, and reduces carbon emissions. These are all commercially viable products.”
“We are not going to solve climate change by ourselves, but it is possible to curb it, ” Tukiainen says.
He adds that this also requires a cultural shift. He himself aims to lead an environmentally friendly life.
“According to Sitra’s carbon footprint calculator, my carbon footprint is 1,8 (ed: Finnish average approx. 8,5 tons). I am a vegetarian, I use wind power, I haven’t taken a vacation flight since 2009. I don’t buy anything useless. I drive a car powered by natural gas.”
In 2001, Tukiainen received the Tampere Region Environmental Award.
Tampere and Tampere Region’s bid for the title of European Capital of Culture 2026 has adopted sustainable development as a core value: ”We want to fight against climate change and for sustainable development and future generations.”
The biochar production facility is a modest-looking chunk of machinery. Yet, it swallows 6,000 solid cubic metres of wood a year, removing up to 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.