“Power and Heat from Peat – Peat in Finnish Energy Policy” (Part 6 of 6)

While most of the publication “Power and Heat from Peat – Peat in Finnish Energy Policy” is written in the Finnish language, the following six English summaries give valuable insight into this largely unknown energy source. Vapo Oy is the largest producer of Peat Fuel in Finland.

Developments in Peat Harvesting Technology in Finland – Summary

Between the 1940s and the present, Finland’s peat industry went from being behind technologically to become the world’s leading innovator and producer of peat technology.

Between the 1940s and the 1960s the Association of Finnish Peat Industries, which was established during the war years, took care that Finnish know-how did not lag behind that of the world’s leading peat producing nations: the Soviet Union, Germany and Ireland. The period of cheap oil in the 1950s and 1960s spelt a downturn for Finland’s peat industry.

The Association of Finnish Peat Industries nonetheless actively monitored technological innovations in the sector. A particular area of interest was the milled peat technology developed in the Soviet Union which allowed large production volumes on a viable industrial scale. Milled peat could be used to make both garden and fuel peat and as a fuel for pulverised fuel-fired power plants.

Sod peat, which had previously been the main product, was mostly used for fixed-bed combustion. Imatran Voima Oy became interested in milled peat as a fuel for  condensing power plants in the 1950s, and was planning to construct a power plant near to the production peatlands of its subsidiary Suo Oy in Southern Ostrobothnia. At the time similar fuel peat-fired condensing power plants were being built in Ireland, for example. The drop in fossil fuel prices, however, put paid to Imatran Voima’s interest in fuel peat. Suo Oy continued to trial the milled peat method, mainly for the production of garden peat.

Finnish peat production and peat technology entered a new era in the 1970s, when the government gave the State Fuel Centre the lead role in developing peat production. The State Fuel Centre’s production targets meant moving rapidly to high levels of production. Peat production on such a large scale had previously only been dreamt of. Initially the response was to introduce Soviet peat technology to Finland, within the scope of Finnish-Soviet trade agreements.

The heavy-duty Soviet machinery was not well suited to Finnish peatlands, which were less uniform and smaller in surface area than those in the Soviet Union. Initially, however, there was a distinct lack of Finnish-manufactured production machinery. Indeed at the time, Soviet peat technology was considered the world’s best. Soviet know-how created the basis for Finnish milled peat production.

Much knowledge was also gained from the Soviet Union on the composition of peat and various forms of usage such as briquettes and environmental peat. The use of Soviet machinery provided a grounding in peat machinery, after which it was easier to promote research into machinery designed for Finnish needs.

Already in the early 1970s, the dream of the Finnish peat industry and the Association of Finnish Peat Industries was to develop Finnish peat technology and gradually phase out the Soviet machinery. This became reality in the 1970s and 80s. Finnish-manufactured equipment replaced the Soviet machinery in the late 1970s, after which imports from the Soviet Union started to tail off completely. The largest specialist equipment manufacturer was the State Fuel Centre, for which in-house product development and assembly were an important element in ensuring operational continuity. When the State Fuel Centre /Vapo Oy made its machines itself, it got what it wanted.

One of the principal Finnish innovations was to introduce rubber-wheeled tractors to peatland production areas. The transport methods used by German and Soviet peat producers were based on miniature railways. These were not a viable option in Finland.

veloped jointly by Valmet and the State Fuel Centre in the late 1970s. The introduction of tractors made other important innovations possible. The State Fuel Centre was able to move to a production system based on independent contractors, and together with the Association of Finnish Peat Industries and other peat producers the Haku method was developed for peatland production areas. The method involves loading the peat from the ridge to the tractor trailer and then moving it to a stockpile. Development of the Haku method began in the 1960s.

By the 1990s peat machinery was crossing the border in the other direction. In the 1980s Finland had become one of the world’s leading peat technology countries, whereas Soviet peat technology was slipping behind.

Since the late 1960s local fuel solutions in the Soviet Union had concentrated on natural gas. Finnish peat machinery manufacturers looked to international markets in Asia and the USA. It was sales of peat machinery that spurred the international expansion of the State Fuel Centre/Vapo Oy.

One of the latest trends has been Finnish sod peat extraction technology as developed by Vapo Oy and VTT in the joint Optimiturve research programme in the 1990s. Since the 1970s sod peat extraction technology was largely kept up by Finland since the Soviet Union had gone in for developing milled peat technology and production in
Germany and Sweden, both traditional sod peat countries, had declined. The State Fuel Centre initially required large volumes of sod peat to fire its peat coke plants from 1978 to 1985. Since the 1980s development efforts centred on heating plants below 10 MW, where the sod peat market had become concentrated.