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Dynamics of cross-industry low-carbon innovation in energy-intensive industries

Panel: 6. Deep decarbonisation of industry

This is a peer-reviewed paper.

Annika Tönjes, Wuppertal Institut for Climate Environment and Energy, Germany
Katharina Knoop, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany
Helena Mölter, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany
Katja Witte, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany
Tobias Lechtenböhmer, Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy, Germany


Technological innovations in energy-intensive industries (EIIs) have traditionally emerged within the boundaries of a specific sector. Now that these industries are facing the challenges of deep decarbonisation and a significant reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is expected to be achieved across sectors, cross-industry collaboration is becoming increasingly relevant for low-carbon innovation.

Accessing knowledge and other resources from other industrial sectors as well as co-developing innovative concepts around industrial symbiosis can be mutually beneficial in the search for fossil-free feedstocks and emissions reductions. In order to harness the potential of this type of innovation, it is important to understand not only the technical innovations themselves, but in particular the non-technical influencing factors that can drive the successful implementation of cross-industry collaborative innovation projects.

The scientific state of the art does not provide much insight into this particular area of research. Therefore, this paper builds on three separate strands of innovation theory (cross-industry innovation, low-carbon innovation and innovation in EIIs) and takes an explorative case-study approach to identify key influencing factors for cross-industry collaboration for low-carbon innovation in EIIs.

For this purpose, a broad empirical database built within the European joint research project REINVENT is analysed. The results from this project provide deep insights into the dynamics of low-carbon innovation projects of selected EIIs. Furthermore, the paper draws on insights from the research project SCI4Climate.NRW. This project serves as the scientific competence centre for IN4Climate.NRW, a unique initiative formed by politicians, industry and science to promote, among other activities, cross-industry collaboration for the implementation of a climate-neutral industry in the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW). Based on the results of the case study analysis, five key influencing factors are identified that drive the implementation of cross-industry collaboration for low-carbon innovation in EIIs: Cross-industry innovation projects benefit from institutionalised cross-industry exchange and professional project management and coordination. Identifying opportunities for regional integration as well as the mitigation of financial risk can also foster collaboration. Lastly, clear political framework conditions across industrial sectors are a key driver.

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