Preliminary study of the innovation centre for nature-based building

There are numerous projects underway in Finland where building materials are developed from renewable and common natural raw materials. Some Nature-Based Building (NBB) products (picture below) are also manufactured in our country. In order to coordinate and help the industry, an innovation centre for organic construction was proposed in the Nature CO2 project, whose most important tasks and prerequisites for starting operations were mapped out in this project. In addition to national projects, it is essential that the innovation centre’s operations are also linked to international research and development work in the field.

Product innovations and companies

The focus of the activities of the proposed innovation centre would be product innovations and industrial manufacturing of Finnish NBB products, as well as supporting measures. The following steps can be seen on the path from a product idea to an industrially manufactured construction product:

  • Product idea
  • Study of commercialization
  • A startup company
  • Industrial manufacturing of products

Tampere University, like many other research organizations, offers its researchers support for the protection and commercialization of their ideas. In addition, Tampere University of Applied Sciences’ School of Built Environment and Bioeconomy has extensive facilities and equipment suitable for piloting the production process. The piloting of the production process could be connected to students’ exercises and theses, which could make piloting affordable. Piloting the production of heat-pressing products could take place at the Southeastern Finland University of Applied Sciences’ Mikkeli Campus, where similar products are being developed today. By concentrating this piloting in a few places in Finland, specialized expertise in the field would be obtained, which could be used to promote the industrialization of the field.

Finnish projects

Almost 20 ongoing or already completed projects related to the NBB study were interviewed in the project, as a comprehensive picture of the research and development work in the field was needed in Finland. It turned out that, fortunately, there are very few complete overlaps in the projects. Instead, areas were found where research is lacking, such as basic research on clay as a non-burning binder. It is relatively easy for this topic to receive funding, especially from the EU, due to the current Green Deal, and new projects are also pending, so coordination between projects will continue to be needed. However, the authors of the projects may have lacked education on civil engineering and/or knowledge of technical research methods. The development and research of building materials and structures is an engineering science, and e.g., Tampere University’s Building Physics research group has these starting points. Therefore, it would be natural that the innovation centre would be located in connection with this research group, and that the innovation centre would also assist projects carried out elsewhere if necessary.

Challenges and strengths

The goal of the project was also to specify technical research and investigation needs in order to improve the general operating conditions of the field. The following clarification needs emerged during the preliminary investigation:

  • Fire safety is seen as a challenge, at least in light of Finnish fire regulations. In many other countries, however, bio-based thermal insulation can also be used in the construction of high-rise buildings. Clay products are expected to be fire protection products that solve the problem, and efforts are being made to harmonize the fire standards of different countries.
  • Hygroscopic NBB products basically have a high moisture capacity and favourable effects on the indoor air of buildings. However, moisture safety must be verified with correct structural solutions, the research of which in Finland is concentrated in Tampere University’s Building Physics research group.
  • Based on current standards, the carbon dioxide stored by bio-based products cannot be taken into account in the calculation of the carbon footprint, as carbon dioxide is assumed to return to the atmosphere at the end of its life cycle. However, the Finnish government wants to promote technical carbon sinks, in which case biochar can be pyrolyzed from the materials, or carbon dioxide can be filtered from the flue gases and stored for a long time. This change should also be taken into account in future carbon footprint calculations.
  • Basic clay research was needed in all clay projects, and especially in light clay projects, because now, for example, it is not known which type of clay binds best.
  • In addition to low-carbon construction, the manufacture of NBB products could also solve environmental problems in the land use sector, as bio-based raw materials can increase, for example, the annually renewable carbon sink in wetlands and remove nutrients from waterways.

European research parties

Eight  research organizations, including Tampere University, participated a international meeting that was organized in the project in order to map the research organizations in the NBB field operating in Europe and to explore cooperation opportunities. At the meeting, it became clear that all parties have the same type of clarification needs that were listed above. The challenges and strengths of the topic were to be explored, for example, with the help of joint EU projects. Research information related to the topic would be good to initially map and collect in one place, i.e., establish an NBB data centre. Similarly, it would be good to map more European organizations where research work related to the field is carried out.

Financing of the Innovation Centre’s operations

Public project funding is needed to start the Innovation Centre’s operations. The goals of the European NBB research group are very close to the previously listed goals of the innovation centre, so when looking for continuity, it is best to aim primarily for Europe-wide projects. The funding for these is likely to be larger and the duration of the projects longer than for national projects, which of course can be used to support the EU project. In this EU project, Tampere University could be the main applicant and other European NBB research organizations would be sought as partners. If necessary, companies from the respective countries would also be sought to join the project. The EU project in question would aim to establish the Innovation Centre and its operations, so that it could improve the general operating conditions of the sector in Finland as well, as outlined in the Nature CO2 project. In the medium term, it is assumed that the building materials industry will also finance the operation of the innovation centre.


The ongoing nature-based construction projects in Finland would need coordination and support in order to use these resources to make the industry progress as efficiently as possible. Even if product innovations are developed in many places, many points of departure favour the fact that the innovation centre in question should be located at Tampere University, as can be seen from the descriptions of the project’s sub-areas above. However, the Innovation Centre would not be an administrative unit in the initial phase, but a series of public projects with a common goal. During these projects, it would be possible to apply for permanent funding to establish an administrative unit.

The project was implemented between November 1 and December 31, 2023, and was financed by the Ministry of the Environment and Tampere University. Its responsible leader was professor Juha Vinha ( ), project manager Mikael Westermarck ( ) and research assistant Milla Virkki ( ).

Home page of Nature-Based Building

The project has received support from the Ministry of the Environment’s Low Carbon Built Environment program, which is funded by the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF).