Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Sustainable chemistry: Accelerating innovation and impact in Europe

On 8 June 2017 the European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry (SusChem) held its 15th annual Stakeholder event (#suschem2017) at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Brussels, Belgium. The theme for #suschem2017 was ‘Accelerating innovation and impact in Europe: Shaping expectations and priorities for the next EU Framework Programme (FP9)’. 

A full proceedings document for #suschem2017 and notes from the breakout sessions are now available on the new SusChem website.

#suschem2017 brought together senior players from the chemical and biotechnology industries, academia, research technology organisations (RTOs) and EU institutions to address common challenges and debate priorities crucial to the sustainability of the European chemical and biotechnology innovation sectors.

Sustainable, circular, responsible
In an opening plenary presentation Peter Dröll, Director for Industrial Technologies at the European Commission DG Research and Innovation (below) stated that “Our common future must be sustainable, circular and responsible” - concepts that SusChem and its activities are very much aligned with.

Dröll described some current thinking on aspects of FP9 including the concept of ‘missions’ and called on all attendees to make the collective case for investing more in EU research and innovation in the future - a theme that was repeated by many speakers during the day. In particular, the key to ensuring future funding was demonstrating the societal impact of current funding initiatives for research and innovation.

In his plenary address SusChem Chairman Dr Klaus Sommer stressed the need for a continuing role for industrial leadership in FP9 projects and the need for adequate funding to bridge the innovation ‘valley of death’ and ensure commercialisation. He noted SusChem’s key messages in its contribution to the Horizon 2020 consultation: in particular the value of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), such as SPIRE and the BBI JU, as instruments to promote competitiveness.

SusChem – a success story
SusChem is a clear success. Sommer stated that “85% of the input on topics found in SusChem’s Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) was now reflected in Horizon 2020 programmes”. This was a significant impact of which all SusChem stakeholders should be proud!

He also highlighted the swift success of the SPIRE PPP, a SusChem inspired initiative, in raising some €750 million of private funding for its projects. He said that “SPIRE is on its way and is already mission driven with a set of clear key performance indicators (KPIs) for Europe.”

Underlying this success is the plain fact that SusChem – and sustainable chemistry in general – is providing the solutions for the challenges that society faces across areas from climate change and energy transition to high performance materials to enable a circular economy and digitisation of the chemical and other process industries.

Breakout sessions
Participants split into three parallel breakout sessions all focused on various aspects of the future FP9 programme. The sessions consisted of short presentations on the topic area and then an interactive session with moderated small groups discussing the topic and providing insights and solutions. The results of the session were shared in an afternoon plenary session.

Breakout Session 1 looked to define success factors for EU funded projects to optimise innovation impact and value for Europe. BreakoutSession 2 examined the role of SMEs as a driver of the EU innovation ecosystems and how we can stimulate market-creating innovation through SME funding. Breakout Session 3 looked at shaping funding instruments to accelerate innovation and competitiveness in Europe.

Panel discussion
In the afternoon SusChem stakeholders received updates from the SusChem NTP network and feedback from three morning workshop sessions on FP9. These had focused on aspects of boosting innovation impact, the role of SMEs and appropriate framework instruments.

The culmination of the FP9 debate was a high-level panel discussion that examined how to accelerate innovation and deliver impact in the forthcoming framework programme. The discussion was moderated by Cefic Executive Director for Research and Innovation Pierre Barthelemy with contributions from the European Commission and key SusChem stakeholders including large industry, small companies, research and technology organisations and PPPs.

Kurt Vandenberghe, Director for Policy Development and Coordination at the European Commission’s DG Research and Innovation, opened the discussion by describing the important role that SusChem and other European technology platforms can play in shaping FP9.  He said that there are calls not to change anything from Horizon 2020 but there is a need to balance change and continuity to maximise impact. For industry Ulrich Küsthardt, SusChem Board Member and CIO at Evonik, insisted that continued public funding for larger companies should continue. The executive director of SPIRE Àngels Orduña explained the added value of PPPs, such as SPIRE, saying that the public-private partnership is able to gather together complete innovation ecosystems, connecting existing systems and networks, increasing the participation of industry both large and small. From the research perspective, Professor Michael Matlosz from the French National Research Agency (ANR) stated that FP9 must maintain the research competitive edge that previous programmes had delivered and that the EU should continue to base its strategies on its strengths. Muriel Attané of EARTO felt that more pilot and demonstration projects would be needed and we should be building a technology infrastructure that would be appropriate for decades to come. Iryna Sukhotska from Spanish SME Biopolis stressed that all sizes of companies are important in the innovation ecosystem and partnerships with large chemical industry are crucial for small companies.

The debate highlighted also the need to preserve the right balance between research and innovation in FP9, as well as the industrial eco system of funding for small and large companies. In particular a clear narrative demonstrating the impact of sustainable chemistry innovation to help citizens and politicians to understand its value to society must be developed – and fast!

FP9 – our mission
From the #suschem2017 discussions it is clear that SusChem needs to think about the concept of missions in FP9: what do we want missions to be and how can we develop our vision for mission targets. We also need to support the success of PPPs in Horizon 2020, such as SPIRE and BBI, and their ability to operate along the whole innovation value chain – an essential element to deliver impact.

FP9 needs to be more inclusive for new member states, but also ensure that successful innovation is the paramount objective to achieve sustainable jobs and growth in Europe. More simplification of procedures in FP9 was desirable, but we need to conserve what was good in Horizon 2020.

Better alignment between EU programmes and national level initiatives is also needed, and funding for industry large and small should be continued to ensure a healthy industrial innovation ecosystem that can deliver new goods and services to the market.

SusChem’s new brand
Earlier in the day the new SusChem branding was presented by the SusChem Communication team who invited delegates to “step into your sustainable future!”. The new branding underlines the message that “We are all SusChem” and that together all stakeholders should stand as strong ambassadors for the SusChem brand.

During the day stakeholders got an in-depth brand experience with visual, taste, auditory, smell and touch elements. In addition other brand experiences included an on-site animator and a wish tree (see below), where stakeholders were encouraged to write down their one main wish for FP9 with one lucky delegate’s wish winning an iWatch in a draw at the end of the day.

Thank you Klaus!
At the end of the day SusChem board Chairman Klaus Sommer (below) received a standing ovation from the delegates after announcing that, due to new responsibilities, he would be standing down from the SusChem board later in the year. Dr Sommer has been a significant figure in SusChem since its formation and he said that it had been wonderful to work with so many committed people and was proud that SusChem had achieved so much. We will miss you Klaus!

To view more of the #suschem2017 photo gallery click here.

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