Published: November 18, 2021

The Tapojärvi Innovation Challenge challenges students to develop new business out of industrial by-products

One year ago, Tapojärvi founded the Innovation Challenge competition for graduate engineer students and other graduate level students, so that the company can recruit new talent and get modern ideas on how to turn industrial by-products into commercial products. Two people from last year’s winning team were employed by Tapojärvi.

This year the competition was held once again. The topic was to develop commercially utilizable applications for the slag produced by the steel industry, the tailings and sand residue of the mining industry and the dregs produced by the forestry industry.

During the fall, 23 multidisciplinary student groups have worked on new innovations out of which four of the best were selected from the trials to the final. Tapojärvi rewarded the winning team with a 10 000 euro reward and the other finalists got 2000 and 1000 euros. In addition to this, the groups have the possibility to develop their ideas further with Tapojärvi.

The innovation competition seeks to further the students’ understanding of the challenges of circular economy in different industries and to help develop sustainable solutions for the side-branches of different industries through new product and service innovations.

– The competition fits perfectly into Tapojärvi’s strategy, as we always want to be recognized as a trendsetter and forerunner and we want to keep moving forward. The competition creates employment opportunities for young people, who are still at the student phase of their career. Simultaneously, we can help further know-how in circular economy and perhaps find new ways to save natural resources, says Mari Pilventö, the executive vice president of Tapojärvi.

Photos: Jaakko Heikkila

Victory with the help of GLD

This year’s Innovation Challenge was won by a team, whose innovation centered on the use of GLD (green liquor dregs) in the neutralization of the tailings produced by mines. Other finalist topics included the use of GLD as the raw material for artificial marble, a medical carbon dioxide absorbent produced from the calcium oxide of steel slag and the use of fly ash and the tailings of iron ore as raw material for ceramic slabs. The competition between the finalists was tight and victory was reached with mere decimals.

– The winner was probably decided by just a few votes, so most likely there was also luck involved here. Still, it was worth it to work hard and participate, because I’ve never won so much money by just taking part in the lottery, says Mirja Tuuri of the winning team.

There are other uses for green liquor dregs, but massive amounts of it still end up in final disposal. This is why it is important to study the use of GLD as further processed products as much as possible.

– We initially had two ideas for the use of GLD, but this time we chose the solution that is more efficient from a commercial perspective, says Jaakko Kaksonen.

The team’s innovation combines two industries, where the mining industry could utilize the by-product of the wood and paper industry to neutralize the tailings produced by mines. At the same time, the use of natural materials and chemical products could be reduced.

– What separates our innovation from the others is probably the fact that getting green liquor dregs for the neutralization of mines would be a relatively simple process and it won’t require a significant amount of further processing, says Juho Röytiö.

– Of course, developing this idea into a completed product still requires a lot of work, but, at the moment, it seems completely possible, he says.

Real life solutions for industrial problems

The second finalist work studied the use of GLD mass as raw material for artificial marble.

– The properties of marble made out of GLD are similar to real marble, but it would be significantly cheaper to produce, process and transport than traditional marble. There is less need to use natural materials and there is a huge need for it in the worldwide market. I would like you to remember at least these facts from of our presentation, says the salesperson of the team, Ari Lankinen.

The third and fourth innovations presented the use of fly ash and the tailings of iron ore as raw material for ceramic slabs and the production of medical carbon dioxide absorbent from the calcium oxide of steel slag. Both works received due praise from both the audience and the judges.

– I would rather have taken the main prize that is ten times bigger, but you can’t win every time, that’s just how it goes, Moona Kiistala admits.

– I don’t feel as if I’ve lost – after all, we did beat twenty other teams by making it to the final. It was a close contest and this has been an extremely exciting experience. We saw some truly professional presentations here, says Tellu Salmenkylä.

The final was broadcast live on the 66th anniversary of Tapojärvi on the 27th of October. The finalist works were evaluated by an international panel of judges. The panel included Fernando Camponi, the HSE-executive of Acciai Speciali Tern (AST), Jarmo Lilja, the process development manager of SSAB, Erno Mustonen, a lecturer from the Faculty of Technology of the University of Oulu and Henri Pilventö, the commercial manager of Tapojärvi Oy. The audience could also vote for the winner.

The live broadcast of the final can be found from