Archive for the ‘R&D’ Tag

Place your bets on KETs

The European Commission’s High Level Expert group on key emerging technologies (KETs) has recently identified six key areas of technology that are worth US$832bn today but could be worth US$1,282bn by 2015. They believe these big technology bets will be at the core of future consumer electronics devices, healthcare, transport and communication solutions and should be a core focus for our scientists and manufacturing industries.

KETs are defined as knowledge and capital-intensive technologies associated with high R&D intensity and rapid integrated innovation cycles, high capital expenditure and highly-skilled employment. Mastery of KETs is a strategic priority, to ensure Europe-based companies can produce the innovative products of the future.

Combinations of KETs are embedded at the core of most advanced products. For example, an electric car is a combination of advanced materials for batteries, microelectronics components for power electronics in order to reduce the weight of the car, photonics for low consumption lighting, industrial biotechnologies for low friction tyres and advanced manufacturing systems to produce vehicles at a competitive cost.

According to this Group Europe, once the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, hosts a manufacturing base built upon a long-established engineering tradition, a strong R&D capacity backed by strong universities and the ability of industry to adapt to technological progress and to produce high quality products with global potential.

Today the same manufacturing industry provides technologies and solutions which are needed to respond to major challenges of the 21st century, including, climate change, resource and energy efficiency, security, an ageing society and sustainable mobility. Not surprisingly the market is highly competitive and technologies are typically created within a business environment, where SMEs can play an important role, especially by providing inputs and innovative solutions to global companies. Local companies should take note.

Against this background, the major opportunity areas identified include nanotechnology, photonics, industrial biotech, advanced materials and advanced manufacturing systems. By way of illustration of the potential, the EU says micro and nanoelectronics is a US$250bn industry that could be worth US$300bn by 2015, while nanotechnology is a €12bn industry with the potential to grow at 16pc a year to reach US$27bn by 2015. Advanced materials, including new energy sources such as advanced batteries, photovoltaics, gas turbines and solid state lighting, are tipped to grow 6pc a year to become a €150bn market in 2015. Industrial biotechnology – uses enzymes and micro-organisms to make bio-based products in sectors as diverse as chemicals, food and feed, healthcare, detergents, paper and pulp, textiles and bioenergy. The EU identified that this technology could grow from US$90bn to become a US$125bn market by 2015. Advanced manufacturing systems, including semiconductors, has been identified as an area that will grow 5pc year on year to become a US$200bn industry.

Regular readers of this column may have heard me comment on the need to bridge the ‘Valley of Death’ – essentially the gulf between identifying new technologies and successfully commercialising them. They have identified a three-pillar approach to a successful crossing which I would certainly agree with. The first stage ‘Technological Research’ consists of taking advantage of scientific excellence in transforming the ideas arising from fundamental research into technologies competitive at world level and this is where the work of the Science Park and our partners in the Universities is critical.

The second stage ‘Product Demonstration’ will allow for the use and exploitation of KETs on European soil to make innovative and performing products and solutions competitive at world level.
And the third stage, ‘Competitive Manufacturing’, should create European manufacturing ecosystems for globally competitive products and industries to compete with our Asian and US rivals.

By focusing on these key stages of the innovation chain, the hope is to trigger a virtuous cycle, from knowledge generation to market flow with feedback from the market to knowledge generation support, thereby strengthening economic development. It is encouraging to know that it is broadly this same model that is being followed here in Northern Ireland. We just need to place our bets as best we can but yet be flexible enough to switch assured we have the basic science and learning skills in place.