Key Enabling Technologies and Industry in the Future EU Research and Innovation Programme

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The Key enabling technologies (KETs) concept is one of the most successful innovation initiatives in Europe and must remain a key element of the next EU Research Framework Programme to ensure it can accelerate change and benefit citizens. That was the main message from the high-level debate organised jointly by  SusChem, SPIRE and EMIRI on 28 November 2017 as part of the 9th European Innovation Summit.

MEP Christian Ehler, who hosted the event, emphasized the importance of KETs in boosting Europe’s economy and competitiveness by generating much-needed growth, employment and innovation. The MEP claimed that “by their name and nature, KETs are key for the future Framework Programme”. He pointed out that the European Parliament is a keen advocate of, at the very least, maintaining current levels of financial support for KETs.

The MEP also emphasized that, in the context of Brexit, the Euro 120 billion budget for the next EU Research and Innovation Framework Programme suggested by the European Parliament, would be a very positive scenario.

Timely debate

Opening the event, Pierre Barthelemy, Executive Director for Research and Innovation at Cefic noted that the discussion was particularly timely. With three years left of the Horizon 2020 programme, the European Commission has launched a wide-ranging policy review. One of the questions concerns the role of technology and industry, not just in the post Horizon 2020 budget but as a future priority for the EU.

The debate focused in particular on the six current KETs: advanced manufacturing systems; advanced materials; nanotechnologies; micro and nano electronics; biotechnology; and photonics. It was an opportunity to showcase some shining examples of KETs and demonstrate how, at a time of increased global competition, they are contributing to Europe’s industrial growth.

One such example was presented by UMICORE, a Belgian company that produces advanced materials for batteries that power everything from smartphones to electric bikes. Kurt Vandeputte, its Senior Vice President, noted that it had become a global leader in its field thanks in part to the funding that it had received under the KETs programme. Vandeputte told the audience, “I strongly believe in the value of this funding and obviously hope it continues.”

He supports EMIRI and the collaboration with the EU under Horizon 2020 which has been “excellent” and led to increased support to advanced materials for clean energy and mobility. With Europe lagging behind in R&D investment, Vandeputte said, “Support to KETs must continue and we call on the EU to build on this and not ignore advanced materials and other KETs and show more ambition in FP9 to preserve technology leadership.”

A further example was provided by Clariant, a leading company in specialty chemicals, whose Senior Vice President Ling Hua described the KETs scheme as “very important”. She showed an investment example from a development in the biotechnology KET which will create jobs in Romania. She also showed how the SusChem research and innovation agenda covers all six KETs and how they relate to virtually all value chains. Munich-based Hua added: “It is important not just for my company but also for innovation in Europe and helping to keep the EU and Europe at the forefront of such technology. The Horizon 2020 programme has been vital in fostering innovation.”

A third example came from LKAB, a Swedish company that produces 78 % of Europe’s iron ore (27 million tons per year). Stefan Savonen, Vice President for energy and climate outlined the relevance of KETs to address challenges in the minerals sector, including fossil-fuel free mining and digitalization. Savonen presented the example of DISIRE, a project under the SPIRE contractual public-private partnership initiative, which runs five demonstrations on integrated process control. He also emphasized the importance of the SPIRE partnership beyond Horizon 2020, as a platform for innovators across eight industrial sectors. SPIRE’s mission is to empower the most sustainable, agile, flexible and competitive process industry in the world through KETs.

Each of the three companies cited are members of associations that play a vitally important role in implementing KET related partnerships: EMIRI (the Energy Materials Industrial Research Initiative); SusChem (European Technology Platform for Sustainable Chemistry) and SPIRE (Sustainable Process Industry through Resource and Energy Efficiency).

KETs and the future of Europe

Robert Schroder, a member of the cabinet of EU Commissioner Carlos Moedas, who is responsible for Research, Science and Innovation, said it was the Commission’s intention to “continue to support this kind of collaboration” at EU level, adding, “Discussions about the post 2020 budget, including the size and shape of the FP9 programme, are currently underway but I am optimistic about the eventual outcome. It is important that we support European competitiveness as was outlined in the state of the union address by the Commission President.”

He added, “The Commission is very happy with the participation of, and contribution by, European industry and SMEs. The KETs programme is working well, particularly in aligning EU policy to industry and now we have to look at where we can do better” to bring added value and higher impact to the EU.

“A strong pillar for the KETs should be mobilized in the next research and innovation programme” was the overarching message summarized by moderator Martin Porter, executive director of i24c. This should be clearly acknowledged and addressed in ongoing and future discussions on FP9.

In his closing speech MEP Ehler outlined an inspiring vision for Europe, pointing out that Europe had been the first to think about manufacturing. KETs build on this ambition. He also said that in a world of social media heroes and questioning of the very basis of our well-being, Europe is the place where people are defining the effectiveness of technologies for society and this makes our way of living attractive beyond Europe. “If we combine this attractiveness of the European model of wellbeing with the technology abilities that we have, Europe will play a leading role in the world”.

Finally, he claimed that to achieve the very ambitious research and innovation budget of 120 billion Euro for FP9, there is a need for a narrative that relates to hope and a vision. Industry can help to explain this ambition and to develop such a narrative on research and innovation and for the future of Europe.