National Growth Fund, the innovation tool that stimulates co-creation within public-private partnerships as ‘key for success’


The BioBased Circular and NXTGEN Hightech Growth Fund projects are in the spotlight in this newsletter. Deservedly so. They are long-term public-private projects that can have great impact. Transition science teaches that transformation to a sustainable process industry only via the market happens too slowly or not at all. Complex system issues have many questions, risks and uncertainties: from unknown cooperation partners and setting up new chains to years of further development of technologies with little prospect of positive returns.

BioBased Circular develops new, competitive production chains that exchange fossil carbon compounds for plant-based ones. At the system level, formation and scale-up of biobased circular value chains has several challenges. Agreements are needed ‘across’ traditional chains and between sectors that hardly know each other. Intensive cooperation is needed to find a fair distribution of risk, value and to coordinate volumes and logistics of upscaling. Crucial is direction. At TNO, we create methods to design new chains and business models, to align parties in the chain and to work from collective value towards investment decisions.

In addition, barriers and preconditions such as blocking and stimulating laws and regulations or fragile public support must be identified and addressed. Biobased chains must become fully economically and ecologically sustainable. Deployment of biomass is complex and requires choices and connection across sectors. It is great that Brightsite, together with Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, is investigating what is needed to accelerate the raw materials transition. NXTGEN Hightech is taking another step in scaling up technologies in the sustainability transition. Plasma technology has the potential to electrify chemical processes and the research results are promising. However, deployment on an industrial scale requires the equipment to be concretely available and productive in factory processes. We need to figure out, with companies on the floor, what technology and skills are needed to build plants.

In our recent report ‘Future of Dutch Industry’ (Dutch only), TNO emphasises the value of the chemical and hightech industry. However, long-term innovation programmes are needed for the adoption of sustainable carbons to circular raw materials and materials, and in hightech, R&D intensity lags behind abroad. The National Growth Fund is the only innovation instrument in the Netherlands that addresses both weaknesses through public-private partnerships. In transformations, co-creation is key for success.

Wimar Bolhuis
Director TNO Vector
Centre for Social Innovation and Strategy