News | May 7, 2020

Accelerate innovation now

Use the momentum of this crisis to guide the economy in the right direction, argued participants of the Industrie in Gesprek online event. Incentives can create a more innovative, sustainable and circular process industry without being overly protectionistic about it.

Read this news item in Dutch here.

During this online event on April 30, the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT) discussed the “big questions of today” with its community. Using interviews, polls and chat messages, the panel members Marco Waas (director of R&D and Technology at chemical company Nouryon), Erik Pijlman (CEO of the circular cellulose platform Recell) and Tjeerd Jongsma (director of ISPT) discussed with each other and in addition another fifty guests about innovation and sustainability in the process industry.

Event - Industrie in gesprek - Corona en innovatie - ©Adam Niescioruk

Strong guidance

Does innovation aimed at sustainability suffer under the corona crisis? “Innovation is still necessary,” is Waas’ experience. “Our factories are still running and I have meetings with international startups and scale-ups almost every day. You can maintain existing relationships well with Teams, building new relationships is more difficult. Nevertheless, I think that innovation will suffer least for the time being from the one and a half meter economy. However, this could be the ideal time to accelerate innovations.”
Pijlman sees this crisis as a good time to give more government direction to innovation. “Of course there was already a lot of encouragement, but that was too non-committal. The government could now provide stronger guidance.” In that case, the direction should mainly go towards a more sustainable and circular economy. For example, one of the participants suggested that the costs of recycling should be passed on to producers who use virgin material, rather than those who use recycled material. Another says that we need to take the time for the process: exploring new directions, bringing parties together and expanding visions.

Taxation versus stimulation

Tax measures can also stimulate innovation, such as CO2 tax. Pijl: “I think a CO2 tax is a very straight forward and fair way to stimulate innovation. It can certainly damage some sectors, but it mainly offers opportunities for innovations and new product-market combinations.” Jongsma thinks that a CO2 tax with the current extremely low oil price is not so effective, because it makes sustainable investments still more expensive than unsustainable investments. Waas would rather stimulate the demand side. “With the Renewable Energy Directive II [in which the European Union formulates objectives for sustainable energy, ed.], you create more demand for sustainable energy. That also creates fewer problems for international competitiveness.” Jongsma states that the government could offer a guaranteed price for, for example, sustainably produced basic chemicals such as methanol or naphtha. “The German government is considering offering this, similar to our SDE + scheme, so that you can sell raw materials back to the government. This guarantees that an investment will last.”

Self-sufficient

Should we become less dependent internationally? The poll illustrates a mix of opinions on this particular question. “We should not be overly protectionistic about it,” said Waas. “Globalization has brought much to the Netherlands. Now we can focus on a new economy and establish employment.” Jongsma thinks that a little more self-sufficiency is useful. “We also did this after the Second World War, by building up a large agricultural sector. We are still reaping the benefits of this.” Pijlman adds: “We are now struggling to produce simple things like face masks in our own country, so we have to ask ourselves whether we are doing the right thing. A circular economy means that you prefer not to drag your raw materials around the world. So first look at how you can organize your production in your own region or country.”

About this series

This Industry in Gesprek was the first online video event of a series, in which ISPT discusses current issues with partners. So it was a bit of an experiment, but it was received with great enthusiasm by the participants. “Very interesting conversation, I am very interested in a next meeting,” says one of the participants in the chat. “Good to treat so much in a short time,” says another. The following online events will take place on Thursday May 14 and Thursday May 28.

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