Plans to build the world’s first climate-neutral cruise ship are underway in Turku. Moreover, a new textile refinement plant will be built in Turku, making Finland the first country in the world where post-consumer textiles are obtained nationwide for reuse and recycling. These unique projects have received financial support from the EU recovery funds.

Can a cruise ship – which essentially is a huge offshore city – be climate-neutral? Shipping experts in Turku are convinced that this is, indeed, possible.

“Fuel plays a key role in the process. Looking at the carbon footprint of a cruise ship’s overall lifecycle, the share of fuel is approximately 87 per cent. If a ship can run on, for example, synthetic methane produced with green hydrogen, the carbon footprint will be significantly reduced,” says Ilkka Rytkölä, Program Director at the Meyer Turku shipyard.

Plans already exist for the remaining carbon footprint, as well:
"For example, it is possible to use carbon-neutral steel in cruise ships. Furthermore, we are also working on several other advanced projects on topics such as energy efficiency, optimisation of energy use, and on-board logistics.”

According to Rytkölä, climate neutrality is also a means of ensuring the competitiveness of the sector.
“We believe that in the future more and more customers will want to travel in a climate-neutral manner, despite the potentially higher costs of green travel.”

In the future more and more customers will want to travel in a climate-neutral manner.

Industrial project to boost cruiser development

The development of the climate-neutral cruise ship is part of an extensive industrial programme, running till the end of 2025, which has received funding from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).

In addition to Meyer, the project participants include Wärtsilä, which is striving to construct a zero-emission ship engine, and SSAB, which aims to develop carbon-neutral steel, along with numerous other companies and higher education institutions.

The total budget of Meyer’s project is EUR 160 million, of which approximately EUR 60 million are reserved for partner companies, research institutes, and universities. The shipyard will receive a maximum of EUR 20 million from the EU recovery funds, and the partners a maximum of EUR 50 million.

“Our goal is that the first climate-neutral vessel will be ordered from Turku in ten years from now at the latest,” says Rytkölä.
Moreover, Meyer aims to make sure that all shipbuilding at the shipyard will be CO2-neutral by 2030.

New life for textiles

Work towards a new, sustainable future is also underway at the Topinpuisto circular economy hub in Turku, around 15 kilometres from the shipyard. The goal is that in 2025, a textile waste refinement plant will be opened in the area with the capacity to meet the needs of the whole country. In fact, the planned capacity of the plant will even extend to the neighbouring countries.

“At the plant, post-consumer textiles are sorted on a line system according to the different material types. Some are directed to be re-used as such, while others will be mechanically processed into recycled fibre,” explains Jukka Heikkilä, CEO of Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto (LSJH).

Jukka Heikkilä. Photo: Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy

However, LSJH, the major owners of which are the cities of Turku and Salo, is not alone in the project.
“Municipal waste management companies around the country deliver material to the refinement plant. They organise the textile waste collection in their respective areas and provide consumers with help and advice. The main thing is that we receive good, clean raw material for the new plant.”

Heikkilä points out that the waste-to-energy plant in Salo is also an integral part of the entity, as it cuts costs in the refinement of burnable waste. LSJH has received EUR 5 million from the EU recovery funds.

Recycled fibre can be used as raw material in new products.

Demand for recycled fibre

The technology and operating model of the upcoming Topinpuisto refinement plan have already been tested at an industrial-scale pilot plant located in Paimio, near Turku. The results have been promising; there are great market prospects for recycled fibre.

Heikkilä explains that recycled fibre can be used as raw material in new products, such as thread, various non-woven fabrics, insulation materials and fillings, acoustic boards, filter fabrics, and composites.

“We are currently supplying material for companies such as Infinited Fiber Company, which is building a production plant for a whole new kind of textile fibre in Kemi, Northern Finland. Natural fibre seems to be in high demand even in Finland.”

Heikkilä is slightly concerned over the upcoming EU textiles strategy and the producer responsibility model that may be associated with the strategy.
“In producer responsibility systems, companies often try to find the cheapest available operator to process their end-of-life materials. In our opinion, circular economy is best promoted by a system where one responsible party oversees and steers the entire recycling process and seeks to find environmentally sound further use for all materials,” Heikkilä points out.

Recyckling textiles. Photo: Lounais-Suomen Jätehuolto Oy

Innovation thrives in Turku

According to both Ilkka Rytkölä from the Meyer Turku shipyard and Jukka Heikkilä from LSJH, Turku is a fantastic place to work on trailblazer projects.

“The Turku shipyard has extensive experience in building cruise vessels, and the maritime industry is a major employer in the area. In the future, we may also be able to draw synergy benefits from, for example, the green hydrogen plant to be constructed nearby – we could use synthetic methane when test driving ships. Moreover, collaboration with the City of Turku has been very flexible. Perhaps we could next work together on, for example, finding more environmentally sustainable alternatives for passenger cars in terms of site traffic at the shipyard,” says Rytkölä.

“With regard to the refinement plant, LSJH has collaborated closely with, for example, Turku University of Applied Sciences. In the future, we will also benefit from the great shipping connections in Turku, if we start accepting textile waste also from other countries,” says Heikkilä.

Furthermore, Heikkilä points out that the new textile ecosystem may also become a significant new employer in Finland. According to the calculations of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, it could create up to 17,000 new jobs in the country.

Text: Matti Välimäki