A seedbed for forest-based innovation

Wednesday, 9 April, 2014
Something is growing at the heart of Europe’s forests: a community of innovators has gathered to boost and improve the use of wood and its derivatives. The forest-based industries are ideally positioned to help build a sustainable future and a knowledge-based economy. A large-scale programme partly funded by the EU is backing this effort.
The WoodWisdom-Net+ programme marks a new milestone for an R&D drive that began in 2004, creating a specialised research community across several EU countries. Launched in November 2012, it will provide funding for a raft of collaborative projects.

In total, 23 projects were selected, for a total budget of around EUR 32.6 million. This figure includes about EUR 23 million of public funding requested, of which the EU will contribute a maximum of about EUR 7.6 million.

The new projects will explore new ways to manage forest resources more sustainably and use them more efficiently in industrial processes. The teams will also develop new value-added products and design competitive solutions to meet market demand.

Branching out

Renewable, versatile and potentially sustainable, wood has a bright future, which the programme is designed to secure. Earlier rounds of projects had addressed aspects as diverse as energy-efficient wooden façades, innovative cellulose products and the optimisation of material recycling from waste and demolition wood.

WoodWisdom-Net+ is an ERA-Net plus: a programme that supports the national and regional authorities of EU countries setting up joint research projects. These projects can also involve partner organisations from outside the EU.

Research cooperation enables the participating countries to pool scarce resources and expertise in pursuit of a common goal. It also helps to avoid duplication of effort, allowing contributing countries to cover a wider range of research than they could tackle on their own.

The EU contributes a third of the funding to top up financing provided by national or regional authorities. Further resources are allocated by the private sector.

Rather than attribute the EU contribution strictly on a per-project basis, WoodWisdom-Net+ takes a broader view, says project coordinator Dr Ilmari Absetz of the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes. The participating funding authorities jointly decide where the EU contribution is most needed.

Together for green growth

“If all the national and regional authorities involved had received the standard one-third funding from the Commission versus two thirds of their own funding, we would have ended up funding only 15 projects,” Absetz explains. Several promising projects would have had to be dropped, and large amounts of public funding would have remained unused.

As it is, the funding available through WoodWisdom-Net+ stretches to 23 projects involving a total of 255 partners across 13 countries. “This is a very good result demonstrating solidarity, trust and a commitment to joint work,” says Absetz.

What are the benefits? “Through this transnational collaboration, all the partners get more results than their national share of funding as long as the projects fully work together,” Absetz explains. “It is important to recognise the actual value added of the transnational activities, because that is the main motivator.”

The advantages, he notes, far outweigh any potential drawbacks, such as the additional effort involved. Pooling resources and expertise across borders enhances the potential of research, and it also enables the participating organisations and individuals to hone skills and make contacts that will be useful for their business activities.

Absetz attributes WoodWisdom-Net’s success in creating a constructive, collaborative environment to a combination of efficiency and enthusiasm. It’s important, he explains, to keep the projects on track in terms of objectives, schedules and deliverables, but to achieve the best possible outcomes, it is also important to ensure that all involved are happy to be involved.

“Having fun, at times, helps in building the atmosphere,” he concludes. “Being reliable but informal is a recipe for good international collaboration.”

Pacing Innovation in the Forest-Based Sector
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