Heikki Aro: Bioeconomy cannot grow in a confined test tube

Pilot tests, testbeds, test plants, showcases, demonstrations. All of these terms refer to the same thing: one of the most challenging stages of product development, i.e. transferring the developed method from lab conditions to industrial production. This is not merely busy work – functionality proven on a sufficiently large scale is often the determining factor in commercial success.

Traditionally, pilot tests have been run in e.g. pilot plants owned by industry, which are usually focused on manufacturing products for one specific field. A completely different type of thinking is required for pilot environments intended for the commercialisation of bioeconomy innovations. The most efficient value networks for bioeconomy are broad-based and multidisciplinary entities that break traditional boundaries. The operating model requires that all members in a given network uncoil their silos, participate in genuine cooperation between industry and small and medium-sized companies, produce user-oriented services and take part in closer than before interaction with lawmakers and supervising authorities. All this also requires commitment to change and genuinely developing the ownership of bioeconomy.

According to the OECD's statistics, only 6 per cent of the research and development activities carried out in the EU are targeted at pilot type research near the markets. In the United States the corresponding figure is 48 per cent and in China 58 per cent. The direst estimates have named Europe the lost continent of global bioeconomy. The risk that we will throw away extensive raw material reserves, the results of methodical long-term product development, new promising product concepts, and the immense potential that bioeconomy has to offer is continuously growing.

The challenge at hand is a large one, but at the same time offers exceptionally vast business opportunities. Finland can be a key player in opening discussion when objectives are set. Investment news from the forest industry in past weeks are a promising first step in the development of new types of structures and operating models. Tekes wants to take part in sharing the risks for development of new bioeconomy business for the global market.

Programme Manager Heikki Aro