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Friday, 22 March 2013

Advanced Manufacturing goes Public

On 19 March the European Commission’s Advanced Manufacturing Technology task force held its first public hearing in Brussels on how advanced manufacturing technologies for clean production can boost the competitiveness of EU industry. SusChem, the chemical sector and its partners in the SPIRE PPP (Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency Public-Private-Partnership) initiative were well represented and fully engaged in this key discussion on Europe’s industrial future.

Opening the hearing, the Director General of DG Enterprise, Mr. Daniel Calleja, identified the manufacturing-related issues which the Europe needs to address to increase its competitiveness: access to finance, the skills mismatch in education, unfilled jobs and investment in innovation.

He noted that manufacturing represents 75% of exports in the EU and 80% of all innovation. “If we neglect manufacturing it will not be possible to emerge from the current crisis,” he concluded.

Peter Marsh of the Financial Times (who also has a first degree in chemistry) provided a keynote address focusing on the new industrial revolution and how to build upon Europe’s existing strengths through supporting good businesses, encouraging technology take-up and promoting science and engineering to tackle the skills-shortage.

The first of three panel discussions addressed the question: How to accelerate the dissemination and commercialisation of advanced manufacturing technologies?

Gernot Klotz, Executive Director Research and Innovation at Cefic (below left), represented the SPIRE PPP in this session and emphasised that successful innovation was not just about technology but also often requires a change of mindset. He also underlined European strengths.

“We have an excellent research basis, a highly evolved ecosystem of big and small companies that work together, the proximity of value chains is a major advantage, and we have the skills to deal with complex (high added value) products and a very demanding market,” he stated.

The SPIRE PPP can yield dramatic improvements in resource and energy efficiency for the process sectors but can also provide improvements beyond these areas to associated manufacturing sectors and along the majority of European value chains.

After lunch the discussion moved onto a second question: How to boost the market uptake of advanced manufacturing technologies?

Skills needed
The final panel discussion looked at initiatives to reduce skills shortages and competence deficits. Here Sue Fleet of Britest Ltd represented SusChem and described its Educate to Innovate programme that is working to develop education materials from current FP7 research projects – specifically the SusChem inspired F3 factory project.

“The aim is to develop attractive context-based learning materials and to act as a promotional platform showing that engineering and science are exciting,” said Sue (below). A small group of innovative university educators will meet in April at the F3 factory demonstrator facility to start the practical development.

“There is a need to raise expectations,” commented Sue. “And we should use the opportunities of the forthcoming PPP initiatives – such as SPIRE - to do this. Skills and educational activities must be part of their agenda.”

The hearing was summed up by Carlo Pettinelli, European Commission, Director, Sustainable Growth and EU2020. He believes that the task force is a cornerstone in the implementation of industrial policy and rediscovering growth and he noted a number of promising ideas already. These included the need for improved dissemination and analysis of output from Commission research projects, the essential role of cross sector collaboration (highlighting the success of Factories of the Future and SPIRE programmes in this area), and the need to produce engineers for industry with entrepreneurial skills via initiatives such as SusChem’s Educate to Innovate.

Your input
The public hearing is the start of the process of consultation on how to increase the industrial competitiveness of Europe following the publication of the updated communication on Industrial Policy issued in October 2012. A series of workshops will be held in Brussels on 27 and 28 May workshops and a second public hearing is currently scheduled for 19 September.

In addition a structured questionnaire can be found on theDG Enterprise Industrial Policy website, where stakeholders are encouraged to make a formal input to the proceedings. All input will be considered in formulating a final report.

You can find more information on European Industrial policy and the consultation here.

BIO-TIC identifies Five Breakthrough Bio-based Products

The SusChem inspired BIO-TIC FP7 has identified five bio-based product groups that could have the potential to boost EU competitiveness and make a breakthrough in industrial biotechnology.

The five business cases were selected following a meeting of the BIO-TIC Advisory Committee earlier in 2013. The five business cases were selected from a list of the most promising bio-based chemicals in order to assess market orientations and 'societal' potential in Europe up to 2030.

All the cases were selected according to a criteria grid that analysed their industrial biotechnology breakthrough potential, their competitiveness in the EU market, their critical mass (analysed in terms of market projection for value and growth potential), their environmental impact, and their societal impacts.

The five product groups are:

  • Non drop-in bio-based polymers (PLA and PHA)
  • Chemical building blocks (platform chemicals – with a focus on succinic acid, isoprene, furfural, 1.3-PDO & 3-HPA)
  • Bioethanol (2nd generation biofuels from waste) and bio-based jet fuels
  • Biosurfactants
  • CO2 as a bio-based feedstock

These product groups are all thought to be EU- competitive, have the potential to overcome non bio-based industry barriers, and will introduce 'cross-cutting' technology ideas.

Enzymes were not selected as a specific business case as they were considered to be a cross-cutting element that should be part of all of the five product groups selected.

For more information about the business cases, contact BIO-TIC project coordinator Antoine Peeters.

The 'Industrial Biotech Research and Innovation Platforms Centre – towards Technological Innovation and solid foundations for a growing industrial biotech sector in Europe’ project (or BIO-TIC) was launched in September 2012 and is a three-year project offering “a solutions approach” centred on a solid road mapping exercise that will involve a broad stakeholder base from industry, knowledge organisations, governments and civil society. Three intermediary road maps will focus on market assessments and projections, research and innovation as well as non-technological barriers such as feedstock.

A series of stakeholder workshops will take place at national and European level to reach a comprehensive view on solutions BIO-TIC can offer to accelerate market uptake of industrial biotechnology. The final aim of the project will be to draw up a blueprint document with a comprehensive set of policy recommendations for overcoming the identified innovation hurdles within a selection of European business and societal opportunities.

You can find out more about the project at the BIO-TIC website and there is an active BIO-TIC Linked-In group that is open to anyone interested in the transformative potential of industrial biotechnology. The project is coordinated by EuropaBio.

Friday, 15 March 2013

What Does a Sustainable Economy Look Like?

Sustainability has been at the heart of SusChem’s vision and mission since its formation in 2004. But what would a sustainable economy look like? This question is pretty important when you are making significant investments in innovation and research. In this special SusChem News article Mike Pitts (right), Sustainability Manager at the UK’sTechnology Strategy Board (TSB), looks at the issue and describes a new tool, Horizons, developed by TSB to help organisations to think about sustainability and their future.

Multiple factors
A multitude of factors drive increasingly rapid change in markets yet, in general, the chemical industry is only comfortable in thinking about technological and economic trends. We have been trained to make molecules and tend towards business models based on making more ‘stuff’ and selling as much of it as possible.

At last year’s Annual SusChem Stakeholder Event I looked forward to 2050 and laid out why these business models are unsustainable and will have to change. The chemical industry has to develop to be the delivery agent for a sustainable economy, but what do we mean by that?

Our society and growth need to operate within environmental boundaries and build on fundamental social and political foundations, while ensuring that we deliver the essential needs for humanity to survive and thrive. It was this basis that led the Technology Strategy Board (the UK Government’s agency to accelerate business innovation) to map out what factors described this situation.

New Horizons
The result was launched earlier this week and is called Horizons. Horizons is a framework describing environmental and social factors that drive market changes; changes that must be taken into account to ensure that major investments on 15-20 year timescales and beyond are less likely to fail.

Horizons resulted from extensive work with the leading sustainability NGO Forum for the Future and it has been tested widely with experts and on our own TSB strategy and programmes. It is a powerful tool to bring the sustainability debate into discussions on markets and to prompt thinking about the opportunities and risks inherent in business plans.

For this reason we want to share the Horizons tool widely. The tool is now available in a beta version; we are still adding new content, case studies and functionality, but the factors, presented as a series of cards, will not change.

These cards are designed to act as prompts for discussion and with supporting information help highlight how these factors are relevant to the markets and supply chains for your organisation. Environmental cards such as pollution, ozone layer and renewable resources are clearly important to the chemical industry, but what about biodiversity? Equally social drivers such a skills and information have affected the industry, but are issues such as trust, equity and accountable governance going to be as, or more, important?

SusChem value
SusChem has shown the value of building in sustainability thinking to innovation and for many chemical businesses these drive the fastest growing parts of their portfolio. There are many examples on Chemistry Innovation’s Sustainable Design Resource of these types of sustainable chemistry innovations.

Horizons will grow over time into a valuable resource for applying sustainability thinking to innovation and we welcome your feedback on how we can make it work better for you.

More information
Dr Mike Pitts is Sustainability Manager for the Technology Strategy Board. For more information on the Horizons Sustainability Tool visit the dedicated website or contact Mike by email. You can follow both Mike and Horizons on Twitter. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

SusChem shaping Horizon 2020 material innovations

SusChem held its first Materials Technology workshop within the frame of the platform’s new strategy on 5 March 2013. Bringing together experts and knowledge from several European chemical companies and research and technology organizations, the workshop aimed to define SusChem’s key priorities for materials research proposal development in the forthcoming Horizon 2020 programme.

The goal of the meeting was to identify the areas of high interest for SusChem stakeholder in materials technologies whether linked to a specific value-chain or of more widespread or cross-cutting interest.

With the underlying objective of updating the SusChem Implementation Action Plan (IAP) on materials technology, the workshop addressed those themes with high market prospects for the chemical and process industries with a strong focus on sustainability and the potential to guarantee excellent science, European industry leadership and tackle societal concerns.

To fulfil these goals under Horizon 2020 Dr Helge Wessel, from the European Commission’s DG Research Industrial Technologies Directorate, stated the need to maintain and reinforce the fruitful collaboration with European Technology Platforms (ETPs), such as SusChem, to define research needs and highlight material priorities. Furthermore, Dr Wessel indicated a number of focus areas where the chemical industries could play an active role in ensuring innovation in sustainable materials.

Value chain strategy  
In preparation for Horizon 2020, SusChem has designed a new strategy based on a value-chain approach that encourages collaborative innovation with stakeholders along the chain to accelerate time to market.  SusChem intends to enhance collaboration between companies and value chain sector experts by the creation of specific teams within the materials working group.

These teams will tackle four key areas where the sustainable chemical industry can play a leading role:

  • Building and construction
  • Automotive
  • Energy, and 
  • Cross-cutting areas with a wide range of application. 

In this context, the working group will identify a series of domains where the chemical industry can develop ambitious targets. These breakthrough targets, some with a clear cross-cutting character and others at an early stage but with strong innovation features, will help to feed the “focus areas” of Horizon 2020.

At this initial workshop some 35 themes within the chemistry application areas of construction, automotive, energy and some general areas were reviewed. The areas with highest interest were highlighted and further work will incorporated them into a revised SusChem IAP for submission to the work programme formulation process for the early calls (2014-2015) of Horizon 2020.

Specific themes 
Within the area of construction, refurbishment was felt to be the highest priority in terms of application demands with also potential to work on specific materials solutions for stationary energy storage. A highly strategic area was defined as 'the circular economy' which would need to be applied to various value chains including the construction / refurbishment value chain, energy and other sectors.

For automotive a variety of material projects were discussed including advanced (carbon) reinforced composites for lightweight structural parts of vehicles, exploration of possible combinations of polymer-based products and metallic solutions. Fibre reinforced materials are considered a cross-cutting technology useful for other value-chains like construction and can include the use of natural fibres and other biobased materials. Another key area of interest is the development of renewable source polymer applications in automotive.

In energy, several challenges were identified in the wind turbine industry, while solar photovoltaic also has major requirements. For thermal solar energy the opportunity lies in ‘third generation solar cooling systems’. For solar concentrated power plants, the challenge for materials is the design of high performance thermal fluids.

The area of waste energy recovery was also highlighted as an important area: both for the potential role of enabling materials and also a process opportunity for chemical industry facilities with substantial excess heat that could be recovered.

What’s next?
The SusChem materials working group will now prepare a revised Strategic Research Agenda for Materials Technologies and will present this to the European Commission in the coming weeks.

If you want to join the SusChem materials working group and share your expertise and knowledge to enhance the materials of the future then please get in touch with SusChem coordinator Jacques Komornicki at Cefic.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Shaping a Sustainable Future in The Hague

Europe’s largest Science and Business Congress on Chemical Engineering and Applied Biotechnology will be taking place in The Hague, Netherlands from April 21 to 25. This important  European congress is taking the theme ‘Shaping a Sustainable Future’ and combines two major scientific and industrial innovation events: the Ninth European Congress of Chemical Engineering (ECCE9) and the Second European Congress of Applied Biotechnology (ECAB2).

This unique partnership of academia, industry and society will bring together international researchers, European politicians, companies, policy makers, promising students and innovative start-ups to jump-start forward-thinking efforts to improve the speed and efficiency of innovation processes. SusChem is involved via numerous presentations by stakeholders and through its partnership in the Chemical Regions for Resource Efficiency (R4R) FP7 project.

The five-day event offers the chance to catch up with all the latest inventions in the field of chemical engineering and applied biotechnology: two key areas for SusChem and future PPP initiatives such as SPIRE and BRIDGE 2020.

ECCE2013 offers a wealth of lectures, workshops and seminars with multiple parallel sessions. The full programme can be downloaded here or you can consider a first-class scientific programme with plenary lectures and keynotes by renowned scientists, poster presentations and over 300 scientific oral presentations in areas from the educational needs of future chemical engineers and novel biobased processes and products to nanotechnology and CO2 capture and use.

Or take a look at the industry focused innovation track: effectively highlighting where science meets business. The special innovation track is tailored to the specific interests of industry, bringing delegates in contact with new clients, business partners and the latest innovations from SMEs and promising start-ups.

As SusChem has demonstrated since 2004 there is immense innovative strength in these sectors offering enormous opportunities to achieve a sustainable society with collaboration between science, government and the corporate world playing an essential role in realising that objective.

EPIC Participation
The event organisers anticipate well over 2000 attendees including several hundred of the brightest and best PhD and MSc students.

Also within the ECCE9 programme is EPIC2013 - the fourth European Process Intensification Conference – that will include the award of the Process Intensification Award for Industrial Innovation organised by EFCE’s Working Party on Process Intensification.

ECCE2013 is jointly organised by the Association of Dutch Process Technologists (NPT) and the European Society of Biochemical Engineering Science (ESBES) on behalf of the European Federation of Chemical Engineering (EFCE). The organisation is supported by the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT).

For more information, check the ECCE2013 website to see the inspiring programme, the names of the renowned keynote speakers and to find out all about the Holland Pavilion and the Exhibition and Networking Fair. Alternatively please contact the Congress organisers at MCI-Group. You can also follow the Congress via Twitter @ECCE9ECAB2 or join the ECCE2013 LinkedIn group.