The second edition of the Biorefinery Pilot Research course in Bio4Energy’s own Graduate School has started with a roar, reinforced with interactive lectures on innovation and entrepreneurship in the nascent sector which is biorefinery based on woody raw materials and organic waste.
The course itself is generic to the research environment Bio4Energy and designed to give junior researchers, most of them studying for a PhD, a chance to experience the work at biorefinery pilot and demonstration facilities in northern Sweden. These facilities are at the heart of Sweden-based efforts to develop new or improved types of biofuel and bio-based chemicals.
'Our students can contribute substantially to the development of biorefinery research by asking questions' when in the field meeting researchers and technicians, said Bio4Energy PI Sylvia Larsson who coordinates the course Biorefinery Pilot Research. Questions which may become topics for the students' own work, whether they go on to serve in academia or in industry. To learn what questions most need to be asked and resolved, it would help them to have a handle on what innovation or entrepreneurship meant in practice, according Larsson, who is an associate professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences at Umeå.
'During the course we will be looking at [specific] innovation systems: The kind of innovation system which is centred on a specific pilot or demonstration facility and its role and function', she said just ahead of the start of this year’s Biorefinery Pilot Research course 11 November.
'It is partly about making students aware of roles other than that of the academic researcher in the traditional sense of the term. We will also be looking at services and the function of the [pilot or demonstration] facilities and how these can be useful', she added.
'[Since] our students could become leading biorefinery researchers in future, we need to prepare them for working with innovation systems'.
Learning to have 'reasonable' expectations
Hans Hellsmark is a recent addition to Bio4Energy in his role as expert on innovation with a special focus on research policy and the role of pilot and demonstration facilities in society. This year he contributes to Biorefinery Pilot Research as part of a Bio4Energy Environmental Platform research group affiliated with the SP Technical Research Institute of Sweden.
'We want [students] to come away with a sense that they understand the role of these facilities in society and their own role in society and the development of infrastructure', Hellsmark said.
'As an assignment they will analyse the role of different [pilot or demonstration] units' role in the innovation system… and how these units may be improved. We hope the end result will be good enough to present to industry', he added;
'It is important that the students' expectations are reasonable. Thinking that [research] results can be commercialised overnight is not reasonable. This often takes decades, especially when it comes to inventions that really revolutionise things'.