Should Europe be worried?
Recently I've been engaged with my team in a project to look what is in the future of organic waste - what are the existing and and future technologies and concepts to refine and utilize organic waste streams. We started by looking into to the past because sometimes the past can tell us where we are going to.
We analyzed how this field has been developing in the last 20 years from the IPR/patenting focus and activity point of view. Generally speaking I think this approach tells what the focus areas have been and also what we can expect to be the solutions on the market tomorrow - it takes some time from filing a patent to have a commercial product on the market.
At the same time we found out where in the world innovations are made. And this made me worry.
In the last twenty years 60% of the patent applications in this field have been made in Asia, mainly in China, Japan and Korea. Then comes the U.S. with about 25%. Russia takes a nice stake, too, leaving Europe in the last place. The difference is even bigger if we look at the last ten or five years. What has happened? I thought we are the front runners?
The environmental thinking in Europe has been everyday bread for all of us for a long time. Policy makers have been on the drivers seat to implement environmental legislation. All of this is good, no doubt about it, we have a cleaner environment we all are enjoying. But the policies made us invest and build infrastructure based on technologies and know-how we had twenty years ago.
Since then not much has happened. The basic solutions are still the same. We built our infra based on the thinking that waste producers must pay the bill - and as a result we have the highest gate fees (waste treatment cost) in the world. We have a huge number of companies living on gate fees and they don't want them to go down because the next day they would be out of business with their old technologies.
Meanwhile the rest of the world did not have a culture and acceptance for high gate fees - and when the environmental awareness started increasing they were forced to start developing more efficient technologies NOT based on the gate fee but on adding value. Making something useful out of the organic waste.
We're not stupid or lazy in Europe. We have a high level of engineering. We have all the potential to be a part of the new ball game. We have just been sleepy. So WAKE UP EUROPE.
Lately I have been very happy to notice that there are a number of Finnish companies already taking action and having the courage to live the presence and the future. I see new waste refining concepts and technologies being developed. Therefore I am optimistic that at least we Finns are very much in the game - on the winners' side. Keep going folks!