Being in New Zealand, it is easy to sometimes think that we are alone in the world – cut off from the mainstream and doing things our own way.
And to some extent that is true, we are geographically isolated, we don’t have a multitude of large corporations driving innovation and pulling our smaller companies along in their wake. We lack critical mass in almost every area, from depth of science capability to market access.
An example of doing things our way is the Above Ground Geothermal and Allied Technologies (AGGAT) programme, which is an industry initiative that is underpinned by an industry development process that identifies market opportunities, companies that are interested in pursuing them and the research required to support developing a product that can compete in global markets.
The process brings together a collaboration of researchers from academia, industry and end users with projects supported from a solid science base breaking down the barriers and reducing the risks inherent in the linear approach of science being thrown over the wall to engineers who develop applications for trial and eventual development of products to take to market.
Instead, the approach involves a constant iterative feedback loop that speeds up the process and enhances innovation.
While we might like to think we are unique in having done this, a recent article in ‘The Chemical Engineer’ that also claims to be unique tells us we are not alone in having come up with a workable collaborative bridge between science and industry.
Their project called UNIHEAT, which made the shortlists for the IChemE Global Awards 2015, involves a collaboration between universities in Russia and the UK, and industry. It is focused on the oil refining industry, is more significantly resourced and involves over 60 researchers.
We are also not alone when it comes to wanting to increase the percentage of investment in R&D, which is a key driver of investment. In New Zealand’s case, the Government’s goal is to increase the R&D investment to 1% of GDP. Japan who had R&D expenditures of 3.45% of GDP in 2008 is aiming at 4% this year, and were recently described as standing still at this level of increase.
Meanwhile China, who in 2005 accounted for just 5% of global R&D spend, now accounts for over 20% of global R&D spend at around 2% of GDP with a goal of 2.5% by 2020. That is a significant increase for an emerging economy. South Korea’s R&D expenditure grew from 3.74% of GDP in 2011 to 4.15% in 2013, closely approaching Israel at 4.31%.
What all of this tells us is that we may be isolated geographically but in a competitive global market, we are wholly exposed to what other nations do and if that means increasing R&D in order to hold our place in the world, then we have to do it.
Holding or even slightly increasing investment in R&D as Japan is doing is still only seen as at best standing still, anything less is going backwards, and in that we might truly be alone unless our industry and economy invests at the level required and learns to compete globally in the innovation race.