EU funding for recovery speeds up sustainable development in Espoo

Published: 15.12.2021 9.25

High expertise in Espoo provides a good basis for the use of recovery funding. Recovery funding is applied for the development of sustainable urban solutions in the areas of Kera, Otaniemi and Kiviruukki.

The EU will provide EUR 750 billion in funding for Europe recovering from COVID-19. Finland will receive about EUR 2 billion of this funding to support the green transition. The aim of the joint KETO project of the City of Espoo, Aalto University, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Omnia is to prepare for the application for recovery funding.  

“The green transition refers to creating new jobs and economic growth with the help of carbon-neutral solutions. The question is how to create, for example, competitive research infrastructure in Otaniemi, which will attract also global interest,” says Mari Päätalo, Project Manager of the KETO project at the City of Espoo.  

“When reviving the economy, we do not want to go back to the old, but to a more sustainable new normal,” says Laura Kontiala, KETO Project Coordinator at the City of Espoo. 

 Sustainability simply refers to the possibility of living a good life, so that we do not use natural resources beyond their regenerative capacity. The City of Espoo has also set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.   

“Transport, energy production, food and construction account for the majority of urban emissions.

It is important to find new ways to reduce emissions,” says Laura Kontiala. 

In the project, VTT and Aalto University are building a joint Smart Otaniemi development environment, where companies have a low threshold to test new smart mobility and flexible energy system solutions. Under the lead of Omnia, the future Kiviruukki area, next to the Kivenlahti metro station, will become a district where the entire food supply will be wisely built while conserving natural resources. Espoo’s own pilot site is the Kera area, where the transformation from an old industrial area towards an energy-efficient district with 14,000 residents and 10,000 jobs is about to begin. The city is also speeding up its carbon-neutrality objectives through public procurement.  

“As a country with high expertise, Finland has good opportunities to become a pioneer in developing and providing sustainable solutions. This will generate growth and jobs,” says Kontiala.

Living and moving without emissions in Otaniemi

Charging points in Otaniemi produce data for researchers. Photo: Vesa Kippola

According to HSY’s emissions statistics, energy and transport account for over 70% of Espoo’s emissions. The research institutes of the Otaniemi area, Aalto University and VTT are turning together with the City of Espoo and Finland’s leading companies the Otaniemi–Keilaniemi area into an international environment for the development of clean and smart urban solutions. The KETO project will generate the construction plan for the development environment named Smart Otaniemi. The communications and data infrastructure of the development environment will form the digital backbone for the development of new solutions for low-emission transport, energy and circular economy.

In Otaniemi, VTT develops, among other things, models for new types of energy communities, where customers of energy distribution networks can also act as energy producers. VTT’s Research Scientist Jyri Rökman is responsible for the development of Otaniemi’s electric-vehicle charging environment. The planned ZEMhub (Zero Emission Mobility Hub) will diversify the existing charging network built for the needs of private cars. The test environment will include, for example, high power charging for professional users, for the needs of delivery trucks, heavy-duty vehicles and taxis. 

“We are currently looking for a location for fast charging points for heavy-duty vehicles near Ring Road 1,” says Jyri Rökman.

The electrification of heavy-duty vehicles is gaining momentum as city buses lead the way.  The charging network will provide the basis for the electrification of the entire campus area’s logistics and heavy-duty vehicles.

“We also aim to bring shared cars to Otaniemi. 

Their charging station is to experiment with V2G technology, where electricity moves flexibly in both directions in the charging cable. If there is a shortage of electricity at some point, the electric cars would act as backup batteries for the area’s grid.

Aalto University researchers, on the other hand, are launching the People Flow campus pilot, which will collect real-time anonymous mobility information from the Otaniemi campus using wireless local area networks and various sensors. Data can be utilised, for example, in real-time traffic guidance and campus development.

“It will help us to understand where people are moving and spending time in Otaniemi. With the help of the data, we will be able to locate premises and services accordingly,” says Antti Säynäjoki, Development Manager at Aalto University Campus & Real Estate. 

The pilot projects will make the campus area more sustainable and energy efficient. 

“At the same time, they bring new services to the users of our premises,” says Säynäjoki.

Many researchers in the area are working on the energy transition and electrification of transport. It is hoped that the Smart Otaniemi development environment will attract companies in the sector to engage in co-creation.  

“There is a low threshold for coming here to test new technical solutions and taking advantage of the top expertise in the area,” says Jyri Rökman.

The benefit is mutual. Researchers get to utilise the data produced by the development environment, while companies get to test their own product ideas in an actual urban environment.

Climate-friendly local food in Kiviruukki

The aeroponic smart garden farming units developed in the Omnia AI Lab pilot project are ready for new cultivations.

In Finland, food consumption accounts for 20–25% of the average consumer’s climate impact. The Kiviruukki region, under the lead of Omnia Vocational College, will become not only the home of 9,000 people, but also the living urban laboratory of a sustainable food system. 

“The goal is to create a resource-wise operating model aiming at carbon neutrality for the restaurant and food services in the area,” says Oona Haapakorpi, Senior Lecturer in Food Science at Omnia.

The chain of sustainable food supply is long, from primary production to food waste prevention and recycling. However, in the future, the production chain in Kiviruukki may be surprisingly short. Salads, herbs or potatoes served in a restaurant can grow in the dining room or in large vertical farms nearby. 

In the aeroponic smart garden developed by Omnia, cultivation takes place without soil. Roots of plants hanging in the air are sprayed with a nutrient solution and wireless sensors monitor the well-being of the plants. A closed nutrient cycle enhances production.

“Vertical farming can reduce water consumption by tens of percent and cut energy consumption by half. Harvest is collected throughout the year.” 

At the moment, aeroponic urban farming is being piloted at Omnia with the help of students. When the construction of Kiviruukki on the north side of the new Kivenlahti metro station gets underway soon, the new Omnia campus will also be built in the area. When its first phase will be completed in 2024, there may already be industrial-scale vertical farms in Omnia’s premises. Assistance is also provided by VTT, as its research centre for bio- and circular economy operating in Kiviruukki is the largest in the Nordic countries.

“The aim is to utilise all the side streams of the food system,” says Haapakorpi. 

Biowaste from restaurants can also be processed into biogas, or composted into soil for gardens in situ. 

Consumers play a key role in cutting emissions from the food system.

“We encourage people to eat in a climate-friendly manner and to think about environmental matters also at the dining table.”

It seems that environmental awareness has increased rapidly. There is proof of the trend in the research projects carried out by Omnia. Climate-friendly vegan and vegetable-based food has risen high on the food professionals’ agenda. 

Omnipresent nature in carbon-neutral Kera

Kera will fight against the loss of nature by smart urban construction.

Construction and buildings account for about one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in Finland. There is much room for improvement in terms of construction and the ecology of its materials. In Espoo’s plans, Kera will be a low-emission model area of circular economy in the future. With the KETO project, ambition has increased further. Now, also biodiversity is taken into account in planning Kera. 

Combating climate change by reducing emissions has been the city’s goal for many years, but the new Espoo strategy also emphasises the fight against nature loss.

“This also requires strong action, because in the end all our vital services are based on a functioning ecosystem,” says Architect Rosa Väisänen, a specialist in the KETO project.

The demolition of the old Kera industrial area and the new construction are about to begin. 

“We need to focus more and more on how and where we build so that the natural values of the area are not diminished,” says Väisänen. 

When the Kera industrial area was originally built, nature had to give way to man. The goal of the builders of new Kera, however, is to increase the amount of high-quality natural environments and promote biodiversity as the construction of the district progresses. 

In addition to the Carbon-neutral Kera road map, which will be published soon, a biodiversity road map will be prepared in the KETO project, presenting the various built-environment green solutions suitable for Kera. These include, for example, green roofs and walls, and natural storm water systems that will replace storm water drains. 

“The purpose of the road map is to identify what are the things that we can do and to act as a playbook for the builders of the area.

The future Kera will include natural meadows, hosting more diverse species than typical grass fields and serving as bases for pollinators in the city. The first approved local detailed plan for the Kera area determines the green factor, which also steers towards a more verdant urban construction. 

The KETO project is also looking for new ways to minimise emissions throughout the entire life cycle of construction. One of the first courses of action is the demolition material survey of the buildings to be demolished in Kera, which will find the best ways to reuse the materials. Kera’s newly concluded development commitment also aims at minimising the life-cycle emissions of construction. In the commitment the city and the landowners of the area commit to building the area with low-emission and carbon-binding solutions.  

What will the new Kera area look like when construction nears completion in around 2035?

“Everything will be close by and you do not really need to head to nature because it is omnipresent. Also food will produced in the gardens or inside houses,” Väisänen says. 

Implementation Pathway for Environments that Accelerate Sustainable Growth (KETO)

In the two-year KETO project, the City of Espoo, VTT, Aalto University and Omnia will create together with companies three development environments in Espoo. They will be used to test new sustainable solutions for the challenges of urban development, digitalisation, transport, energy and the circular economy. The project is being implemented with REACT-EU ERDF funding and it is part of the European Union’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Sustainability
  • Climate
The whole Espoo