Honkajoki Ltd focuses on processing animal by-products produced in domestic food production. However, it has also developed a unique circular economy concept. In recent years, the concept has been decisively developed for international markets, and today the company is happy to have new trade relations with Asia. Oucons Ltd, which is part of the Comatec Group, is a partner of Honkajoki in line design and the development of this circular economy concept.
The history of Honkajoki Ltd goes back to 1967. The company was established in the village of Honkajoki in the northern Satakunta region of Finland, and it has expanded its operations step by step. A turning point for Honkajoki Ltd came at the end of the 1990s.
“At the time, mad cow disease (BSE) was spreading in Europe, radically changing the processing of meat by-products and the way sick production animals were slaughtered. As a result, a new set of regulations concerning animal by-products was introduced in 2002, and we had to redesign our entire processing process and all our lines,” says Managing Director Kari Valkosalo of Honkajoki Ltd.
Business that was previously seen merely as waste management for the food industry is now regarded as responsible operation for the benefit of animals and people’s health as well as the environment.
“We take care of collecting dead production animals from farms and disposing of them appropriately, which is crucial for disease management. In addition, we cooperate with the Finnish Customs and the police, and sterilise products that have been seized at the borders. Thus, business targets and social objectives go hand in hand at Honkajoki Ltd,” says Valkosalo.
In Honkajoki’s processing plants, animal by-products are heated up and dried. A single plant processes 180,000 tonnes of animal-based raw material annually, which corresponds to more than 5,000 truckloads. Currently, the end products, i.e. meat and bone meal and animal fat, are sold to other players as raw material.
“Meat and bone meal is used as raw material in agricultural feed production and in the pet food industry. Most of the fat goes to Neste, which uses it to manufacture its MyDiesel biofuel. Of course, it would be more profitable for us to process the raw material ourselves into ready end products. Therefore, we continuously invest in our own product development,” says Valkosalo.
Approximately 60–70% of the animal-based raw material processed at Honkajoki consist of water. During the drying process, water is evaporated and released as steam. Elsewhere in the world, similar plants blow their steam into the sky, but Honkajoki begun to study how to use the steam in the 1990s.
“In practice, we began to use the steam in district heating and to convert it to hot water. As we are in an agricultural area, we had the idea of using these to heat greenhouses. Today, we put 30,000 megawatts of waste heat to good use; it helps our neighbours grow salad, tomato and cucumber in an area of seven hectares throughout the year. From the outset, we have strongly contributed to the establishment of a biogas plant, a composting plant and a wind park in the surrounding areas,” says Valkosalo proudly.
Cooperation with Oucons, which is part of the Comatec Group, began in 2014.
“Back then, we seriously tried to get into the international markets. We also needed help with line design and the development of the whole concept. It was great that we found a local partner with which cooperation has been easy and straightforward from the beginning,” says Valkosalo.
The production lines of a recycling plant like Honkajoki are not standard. Thus, the equipment and conveyors have been developed to meet the requirements of the production process. Teemu Santahuhta of Oucons often works at the Honkajoki plant, and both parties benefit from each other’s expertise.
“Of course, there are some ready-made commercial devices in the lines, but we’ve also had the opportunity to design, for example, different kinds of conveyors that Honkajoki has been developing over the years for their own purposes. I’ve learnt a lot about Honkajoki’s production process, but I’ve also been able to offer them my own design expertise to develop both the production lines and the whole concept,” says Santahuhta.
“Oucons is particularly proud of the cooperation with Honkajoki,” says Managing Director Teppo Hiltunen of Oucons.
“We want to continue our close cooperation with Honkajoki as their strategic partner, and develop their production and circular economy concept for the international markets as well.”
“A lot of effort has been required from us to develop our cooperation. For example, we’ve started to use new software to meet the demands of Honkajoki,” says Toni Hämäläinen, who is in charge of Oucons’ unit in Kankaanpää.
Honkajoki’s production process is now fully automated. However, it still requires a lot more effort than the simple push of a button. Honkajoki Ltd employs 86 people. Although raw material is not transported during weekends, the production plant operates seven days a week, because the lines must be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
“When processing biological material, the personnel must be particularly vigilant and skillful. Despite automation, there are many tasks in the production process that must be performed by hand. For example, regularly taken samples are processed on site, and the cleaning process requires special care,” says Matti Lehtinen, Production Director of Honkajoki Ltd.
And the development work never stops.
“First of all, the equipment is in hard use, and it needs to be serviced and maintained constantly. Second, we don’t rest on our laurels when it comes to developing the process. There are always some small adjustments we can make,” says Lehtinen.
Honkajoki Ltd’s growth targets are especially linked to export markets. The volume of processed raw material is not expected to grow significantly in Finland, but there is a demand for the circular economy concept elsewhere in the world.
“For example, animal by-products in Asia are transported to landfills to be incinerated instead of being exploited as a business opportunity. The fat and protein left over from the production process could be used to produce animal feed instead of purchasing the nutrients separately. This change would considerably improve the health of both animals and people as well as the environment. Our concept also eliminates the need for external energy and makes the purification of wastewater on your own possible,” reminds Valkosalo.
The first contract in Asia has already been signed, but the company takes a measured approach to growth.
“It’s difficult to get an idea, for example, of the real volumes they have in China. However, it’s not enough to be keen on investing in the country. The permit granting processes and the arranging of financing take their time. In addition, it isn’t possible for us to be involved in the set-up of many processing plants simultaneously, because we have limited resources, for example, to train the plants’ employees,” says Valkosalo.
The company has the vision to build a centre of excellence in the processing of animal by-products and circular economy at Honkajoki. There they will train employees of international customers to become experts in their production process.
“The Chinese have come to Finland for years to learn, for example, how to process and inspect meat. They consider us the perfect test laboratory thanks to our technological expertise and small size. Our extensive experience in the field and the development work we’ve carried out for our production process have proved major advantages on our business trips,” says Managing Director Valkosalo.
Kari Valkosalo has been the Managing Director for approximately 15 years. Despite the challenges, he finds the business segment interesting. The company still has the drive to succeed, and the opportunities presented by international trade seem massive.
“And it’s great that we finally have the courage to go to the world and say that we know how to do this!”