15 November 2016

Bioeconomy and digitisation workshop ahead of new initiative

High-rise wooden buildings, biorefineries and the importance of digitisation for the forest industry: these were among the issues for the future covered at a workshop to which Mistra invited key figures in the forest industry. The hope is that the discussions will lead to a new research programme on the bioeconomy.

A year or so ago, at the Mistra Swecia climate research programme’s closing conference, Mistra embarked on a dialogue with the Swedish Forest Industries Federation, the trade organisation. The outcome was a joint workshop on a Swedish bioeconomy to benefit global society and strengthen Swedish competitiveness, held at Mistra in early October.

Greenhouse-gas emissions and the associated global warming are the biggest environmental issue of our time. Many people hope that an emerging bioeconomy, in which fossil resources are increasingly superseded by biobased materials and fuels, will play a crucial part in the attainment of ambitious global climate goals. Sweden, with its large area of forest land and well-developed forest industry, has good prospects of being included in this transformation.

‘Today, Mistra has no research programme in bioeconomy, but it would be interesting. The closest we have is the forest-related research in Future Forests.’ The speaker is Mistra’s Thomas Nilsson who, jointly with Torgny Persson, Director of Research and Innovation at the Swedish Forest Industries Federation, took the initiative for the workshop.

Visions of a future bioeconomy

Some 20 key people in the forest industry and related sectors were invited to the workshop. Representatives of forest owners, sawmills and the paper and pulp industry, but also wooden building producers, the chemical industry, consultants and suppliers, had a chance to present their personal visions of a future Swedish bioeconomy.

Ensuing discussions and group exercises covered current and future challenges to the forest industry, but also opportunities afforded by the bioeconomy and further research required. In particular, it was discussed how industrial IT can favour bioeconomic development. The Internet already plays a major role in our everyday lives, but digitisation in industry has only begun. Many people even refer to digitisation as a fourth industrial revolution after the steam engine, electricity and electronics.

 The workshop discussions were tremendously exciting, Thomas Nilsson thinks. In his view, the conclusions will form a key basis for any future research programme in this area.

New research programme next year

‘A probable next step for us is now to define a distinct research area and then sound out a group of international experts and researchers about it. Sometime in 2017, we aim to issue a funding call.’

In a sense, the workshop broke new ground for Mistra. Mistra had held similar meetings for global monitoring purposes before, but then mainly with academic researchers. This was the first gathering of representatives from an industrial sector alone.

‘It was partly a new way for us to work, but it turned out extremely well. We hope to be able to do similar workshops with other sectors in the future,’ Nilsson says.

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