Making Finland as an Arctic testing environment?

Heinonen Jaakko

Finland gains more reputation and weight for its Arctic expertise by conducting demanding trials. This would also promote the business opportunities and continuity of our products and services. From the Finnish perspective, one of the key goals is to expand the business activities based on cold-climate know-how, and also to find new growth potential in this field.

Thriving icebreaker business

Construction of icebreakers and ice operations represent the best-known fields of our Arctic technology competence. This has served as a foundation for the robust expertise required in demanding Arctic projects. The Helsinki Shipyard currently has a backlog of several large orders. The latest news on the challenges faced in vessel orders also gives rise for concern. As well as having the required competencies and experts, we must ensure that the ownership of the companies within the sector is stable, and that the financing arrangements of major projects are in order.

The mega investment amounting to approx. EUR 20 billion of energy giants – Total (France), Novatek (Russia) and CNPC (China) in the gas field on the Yamal Peninsula, Russia, creates a massive demand, for example, in ice-going LNG transport vessels, whose design work has already begun in Finland. This investment alone creates huge demand for logistics and infrastructure technology solutions.  Exploitation of other oil, gas and mineral reserves, combined with the opening of the Northern Sea Route, also boosts confidence in future investments. Large-scale transport of natural resources must be accompanied by a large network of supply vessels and ports. This is practically non-existent along the Northern Sea Route.

How do we guarantee continuity of Finnish competitiveness?

Investment in education, training, and research naturally play the key role. Through the Arctic research programmes of Tekes and the Academy of Finland we seek to elevate the level of our Arctic know-how considerably. Understanding of the basic phenomena of cold climate, ice, and snow is paramount. The functionality of technical solutions in the harsh Arctic environment must be verified in advance by experimental means.

Finland offers an excellent natural setting for this, since cold weather, ice, and snow are present throughout the long winter season, at least in the northern parts of our country. Our climate may not be as cold, or the volumes of ice as massive, as in the Arctic region, but the similarities are obvious. A further bonus is the major benefit of testing in a more populated environment. I feel this provides an excellent opportunity for turning Finland into a pilot country for large-scale testing of Arctic and cold-climate technologies. The vehicle testing services in Lapland are an excellent example of this, attracting world-leading vehicle and component manufacturers to test their products in Finnish winter conditions.

Multipurpose cold-climate test-bed

The idea of serving as a test-bed should also be expanded from vehicle testing to other sectors. The development of housing and infrastructure construction alongside the testing of renewable energy concepts, for example in northern Finland, is another natural candidate for this kind of test-bed of snow, ice and cold. This would provide a development platform for environmentally friendly and energy-efficient solutions for community-building close to new harbours and mining operations.

On the other hand, the Bay of Bothnia freezes over every winter, offering an area for research and testing of maritime and ship technology concepts, supported by our open water and model ice basin test facilities. A Bay of Bothnia test-bed would facilitate testing of structural functionality in proper and controlled conditions and scale.  For structures designed for ice-covered maritime areas, for example, the test-bed would promote development towards competitive and maintenance-free wind power, while serving the development needs of the oil and gas industry. This idea should be linked with the proposal under preparation (page only in Finnish) on the establishment of an Arctic chemical and environmental centre in Finland.

VTT takes an active role here by combining and applying the achievements of our academic research into innovations and product development for companies. Key value in our work is to create new and better solutions by respecting the environment and following the terms of nature.

I’m also delighted to be able to tell you that the IMO’s Polar Code regulating maritime transport in the Arctic area is being updated, and apart from maritime safety it will also lay emphasis on environmental protection.

Jaakko Heinonen,

Principal Scientist and manager of Arctic and Cold Climate Solutions innovation programme

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