Push for low carbon cars and energy saving materials under Technology Strategy Board plans

The UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has outlined how it will invest ?1 billion over the next three years to boost innovative R&D and business. The plan means chemists could see more funding in areas such as energy generation, alternative building materials, nanotechnology and low carbon transport. 

’We have to get innovation out of the laboratory to the forefront of business attention,’ said TSB chief executive Iain Gray - echoing the sentiments of John Denham, the minister for the UK’s Department for innovation, universities and skills (Dius), in his March 2008 white paper, Innovation Nation. First founded in 2004 to advise government funding, in July 2007 the TSB was turned into a business-led public funding body operating at arm’s length from government. 

"We have to get innovation out of the laboratory to the forefront of business attention" - Iain Gray

The TSB expects to generate private investment of over ?1 billion to boost its own funding. Over 2008-11, half of the public cash will go to specific challenges such as healthcare and energy, distributed mainly via so-called innovation platforms. The Low carbon vehicles innovation platform, for example - set up in autumn 2007 - will now distribute ?23 million of government money for sixteen new R&D and demonstration projects, Gray announced. In autumn 2008, a further ?70 million will boost the delivery of low carbon vehicles to the market. 

There was new support too for zero carbon buildings, with the launch of an innovation platform with initial three-year funding of ?30 million. The first handout, a ?4 million funding competition for businesses, will be launched on 15 May. Increasing the amount of government procurement for innovation - rather than ’business as usual’ activities, is also on the agenda.  

A quarter of the TSB’s funding will be apportioned to technology areas - such as materials, nanotechnology and electronics. And the final quarter to supporting networks which connect universities, development agencies, small businesses, and industry; amongst them, the chemistry innovation knowledge transfer network (CIKTN) which was formed two years ago.  

Investors did not always appreciate the importance of basic chemistry to new technologies, said Graeme Armstrong, chief innovation officer with Akzo Nobel and a member of the TSB’s governing board. But he hoped chemists could get especially involved with the low carbon vehicles and zero carbon buildings platforms, where new materials were key.  

The TSB has also pledged to simplify what former science minister David Sainsbury called in his 2007 review ’a bewildering array of organisations and schemes, many of which cover the same ground’.  

The aspiration is clear, but when asked for a show of hands, few attendees at the launch were confident that the UK would be a global leader in innovation in 20 years’ time. That attitude must be changed in the next five years, Denham said.  

Richard Van Noorden