EcoMoss: Sphagnum Moss is ideal growth medium, ecological and recyclable

Supported by Tekes, the Finnish company EcoMoss Oy has developed the world’s first moss collection device. The collected moss can be used to manufacture an organic growth medium. The use of Sphagnum moss for greenhouse cultivation is sparking interest around Europe. Expectations are particularly great in the Netherlands, Germany and the Mediterranean countries.

About 300,000 hectares or 4% of Finland's total bogs are ideal for the collection of Sphagnum moss. The Finnish EcoMoss has begun to harness the market potential of Sphagnum moss. According to Heikki Rantanen, CEO of EcoMoss, moss offers a range of opportunities.

"Moss is an antiseptic, even-quality growth medium that is ideal for farming. It can also be processed into construction insulation and does not go mouldy. For example, in log construction moss is used for roof insulation. Moss can also be turned into next-generation bioproducts such as moss composite pipe. The pharmaceutical industry is also interested," Rantanen says.

In 2016, a total of 15,000 cubic metres of moss were collected industrially in Finland.

"Compared to the potential of the product, the amounts we collect are really small – less than one per mille of what is grown annually in the production sector. However, this amount is large enough to enable production," Rantanen says.

According to Rantanen, the amount will multiply as the technology develops. Landowners can earn up to EUR 1,000 per hectare for moss collection. Rantanen says bog owners have already contacted him to express their interest in the new markets.

Production respects natural regeneration

Sphagnum moss grows about one centimetre per year. In other words, once a 30-centimetre layer of moss has been collected, it takes 30 years to regenerate to its original state. The cycle is short compared to forestry, where regeneration takes 70 or 80 years. When peat is collected, the area takes thousands of years to return to its original state.

Furthermore, the bog landscape is restored quickly, just 5 to 10 years after moss collection. According to the preliminary results, however, the regeneration rate of vegetation on bogs can vary greatly.

According to Researcher Niko Silvan of the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), Sphagnum moss is considerably more ecological than peat production.

"Peat production areas need trenches which feed emissions into waterways. As moss production requires no drainage, it does not harm waterways. Furthermore, it generates almost no climate emissions, unlike peat collection. This is because the rapid regrowth of bog vegetation in just a few years balances the area's function as a carbon sink," says Silvan.

The world's first moss collection device

To start producing moss on an industrial scale, the company had to develop moss collection equipment. Heikki Rantanen says that this equipment has been under development for more than 15 years. The first prototype was completed in 2011. The moss collection device is built on the chassis of a forest tractor and is suitable for wet bog conditions. The machine scoops moss off the ground, crushes it and squeezes the water out. Finally, the equipment places the moss in a container.

Tekes has supported EcoMoss in the development of the equipment. Without Tekes's funding, the construction of the prototype would have been impossible.

"We used Tekes funding to build our local logistics – that is, our entire fleet of machines. This support will also mean the world to us in the future, as we need to develop the next generation of machines. We are on the right path, but there is still room for improvement," Rantanen says.

Towards international markets through collaboration

Biolan Oy's subsidiary Novarbo Oy focuses on professional farming. It has been involved in EcoMoss's moss business since last year, when it purchased a large share of EcoMoss's predecessor, BRT Solutions. Biolan became interested in moss as a growth medium in the early 2000s but, back then, the product lacked a well-functioning collection chain from bogs to production facilities. Teppo Rantanen, Managing Director of Novarbo and Biolan, believes in the success of Sphagnum moss.

"The growth potential of growth media – moss included – is estimated to be EUR 2.5 billion within the EU. The market is reasonably large. Sphagnum moss also meets environmental values such as renewability and recyclability. European consumers appreciate the ecological aspects," Rantanen says.

For further information, please contact

Heikki Rantanen
EcoMoss
Tel. +358 40 419 5221
heikki.rantanen (at) ecomoss.fi.

Teppo Rantanen
Biolan / Novarbo
Tel. +358 40 501 0589
teppo.rantanen (at) biolan.fi

Niko Silvan
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Tel. +358 2 953 240 18
niko.silvan (at) luke.fi

Tuula Savola
Tekes
Tel. +358 50 5577 667
tuula.savola (at) tekes.fi

Text: Elina Kirvesniemi / Kaiku Helsinki
Photo: Heikki Rantanen

Sanna Nuutila