Brussels, 14 Jul 2004
Chemical and biotechnology sector organisations Cefic and EuropaBio launched a European Technology Platform on sustainable chemistry in Brussels on 7 July 2004. This focuses on industrial biotechnology, materials technology, and reaction and process design.
Europe is a world leader in chemicals production and the chemical industry is the third most important sector in the EU, with 3 million employees in 24 000 companies, of which 96% are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). However, Europe's proportion of the world trade in chemicals has dropped from 32 to 28% in the past decade, despite an increase in sales from €14 billion in 1990 to €42 billion in 2002.
To sustain growth, it is now vital that the chemical industry develops a strategic research agenda to achieve a balance between long-term technology-driven and short-term market-driven research.
Three strategic areas
The technology platform identifies three strategic areas for European innovation: industrial (white) biotechnology, materials technology, and reaction and process design. These have huge potential for transforming the chemical industry and creating many opportunities for new European companies. In addition, due to their many applications, they can have a significant impact on society and promote the development of new sustainable technologies.
One of the main goals is to maintain and strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of the chemical industry in Europe by providing the technology base for more sustainable chemical production, products and services, as well as improving the infrastructure and financial conditions for innovation.
The Platform will also address public concerns about the effective management of risks to both human health and the environment, together with issues that slow down the innovation process, ranging from access to risk capital, stimulation of chemical research careers and facilitating industry-academia research collaborations, to aspects of public awareness.
Primary source of innovation
"Research is the primary source of innovation in the knowledge-intensive chemical industry and is driving the sector forward," says Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "The European chemical industry has an impressive track record of developing new products and manufacturing processes, but the challenge is to improve the transformation of laboratory ideas into new sustainable products and services to boost EU competitiveness.
"The EU chemical sector only spends 1.9% of its sales on R&D – less than in the USA (2.5%) and in Japan (3%). The new Platform will facilitate the establishment of public-private partnerships to address the barriers to innovation and encourage the industry to invest more in research to overcome these challenges and improve the industry's competitiveness."
The EU has put much effort into boosting research and innovation in this area. There were more than 170 chemical research projects with a total funding of €320 million under GROWTH in the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), with strong SME participation. The Commission launched an action plan on environmental technologies in January 2004, followed by another on environment and health in June 2004. And in its Communication Science and Technology, the key to Europe's future – guidelines for future European Union policy to support research, also adopted in June 2004, the Commission proposed doubling funding for European research in FP7.
Technology Platforms will be key instruments in FP7. Launching such a Platform for sustainable chemistry now, with funding support in future calls for FP6, makes this is an important pilot initiative by both its scope and its urgency for European competitiveness.