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Circular economy: Norwegian technology promotes sustainable use of natural resources

January 15, 2020
By The Explorer

Borregaard

The sustainable use of resources is essential for a circular economy. Read how Norwegian technology reduces marine pollution and makes biofuel of plastic waste.

From time immemorial humans have harvested from nature’s bounty. Until recently, the natural resources were sufficient to sustain us, but it is becoming obvious that some resources are all too finite. It is critical that future resource use respects nature’s limits and adheres to sustainable growth and the sustainable use of resources.

Norway has always had access to a vast amount of bio and natural resources – fish, oil and gas, minerals, forests, and hydropower being the most well known. With the green transition underway, however, Norwegians are looking for new ways for sustainable use of resources. Below are some of the most exciting developments for circular economy in Norway at the moment.

Glitne land-based fish farm for halibut.

Arve Ullebø

Circular economy: New uses for old resources

Norway has huge ocean areas and extensive expertise in sustainable aquaculture. The country is the world’s second-largest seafood nation, after China, with tremendous potential for further ocean harvesting and developing the ocean industries.

One exciting development is known as “integrated multitrophic aquaculture”, which means to produce new types of biomass alongside aquaculture. Ocean Forest was founded by Lerøy Seafood Group and the environmental organisation Bellona. The company is using phosphorus, nitrogen and CO₂ released from fish farms to cultivate sugar kelp and mussels. This is an excellent example of the circular economy in practice, with sustainable food production and reducing CO₂ as an added benefit.

The petroleum industry, meanwhile, has given Norway important experience and technology that can be applied in mining other natural resources, such as minerals. Minerals and rare earth metals could become a very important export for Norway, as they are components in technology necessary for making the green transition, such as solar cells, wind turbines, electric cars, smartphones, batteries and power cables.

NorSun

NorSun is a leading company in high-performance monocrystalline silicon ingots and wafers. Silicon wafers are the building blocks for solar cells, which in turn are the building blocks of solar panels. They have high export value and are an important part of the green transition.

Petroleum-derived chemicals are still used in many products, including adhesives, coatings, cosmetics, household cleaning products and packaging materials. Several Norwegian companies, however, see the potential in replacing these oil-based additives with additives derived from forest biomass – a plentiful resource in Norway.

Borregaard, for example, operates the world’s most advanced biorefinery, ensuring the sustainable use of resources based on renewable raw materials and its unique expertise. The company has developed Exilva, a powerful additive created using cellulose from Scandinavian forests. Exilva is the world’s first commercially available cellulose fibril additive.

Nicolas Tourrenc

Using waste as a resource

With the help of new knowledge and technology, waste can become a resource and even the source of new industries - a central tenet of the circular economy.

Within the marine sector, for instance, the Norwegian Centre of Expertise (NCE) Blue Legasea is gathering experience, resources and knowledge from all segments of the marine value chain. They are working to make Norway a leader in sustainable value creation based on full exploitation of marine raw materials. Mobile SeaLab, a laboratory at one of Norway’s leading research organisations, SINTEF, is doing the same. Mobile SeaLab contains a small, but complete, factory facility for the recovery of oil, protein-rich fractions, and other nutrients from residual raw materials from the fisheries industry.

Norwegian agriculture produces around 415 000 metric tons of residual raw materials annually. Much of this is used for animal feed, but the number of application areas can be increased considerably. Norilia already enjoys success in creating valuable products from what was once considered waste: hides and skins, natural casings, wool and edible meat products. The company uses some 150 000 metric tons of co-streams, or plus-products, from the meat and poultry industry via Nortura to achieve an annual turnover of NOK 500 million, of which 70 per cent comes from exports.

Norilia has also collaborated with the biotech company Biovotec and the food research institute Nofima to develop an organic adhesive bandage made of eggshell membrane that can help to heal chronic sores. Meanwhile, Norner is developing a biocomposite plastic from potato peel.

Jon-Are Berg-Jacobsen

Keeping natural resources in use

Utilisation of bio and natural resources does not necessarily equate sustainable use of resources in and of itself. To ensure that we respect nature and its limits, products and materials must be kept in use with the help of recycling and reuse. This is one of the principles of the circular economy, and is economically, environmentally and socially beneficial. Norwegian companies have already made strides in certain areas within the circular economy.

N2 Applied, for example, has developed a technology enabling farmers to produce nitrogen fertiliser on their own farms, through fixing nitrogen from air and reacting it with ammonia found in the manure of their livestock. The result is a win-win-win situation, with lower greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, higher resource use efficiency, and reduced costs. Students are also in on the act. The innovative student company Plarva Solutions SB is working to solve the pressing problem of marine pollution and contaminated plastic. Among other things, the company is using caterpillars that secrete an enzyme which breaks down plastic to make biofuel.

N2 Applied