The financing and networking of key technologies

So-called key technologies, which decisively influence the direction and speed of the transformation, play an essential role in the transformation. For NRW, this is artificial intelligence, for example. For example, 9 out of 62 German AI research institutions are located in NRW, which makes NRW an important location for AI research. Fin.Connect.NRW can also help to promote the development of leap innovations in NRW by contributing to the networking of companies and universities.

As early as 2016, the OECD named ten key technologies that it believes will disruptively change national economies in the next 10 to 15 years (OECD, 2016). The EU also maintains a list of Key Enabling Technologies with some overlap with the OECD proposals (EU, 2021). These include the following future technologies:

  • In additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, substances are applied layer by layer to obtain materials or objects with special properties. This means that mass-produced products can increasingly also have individualised components.
  • Advanced Energy Storage Technologies for use in wind power and solar energy to minimise fluctuations in the electricity supply. But advanced batteries are also needed for electromobility so that vehicles can cover longer distances or be charged more quickly. Hydrogen technology also falls into this area.
  • Artificial intelligence is another important key technology that has applications across sectors. To keep up with US and Chinese companies and ensure digital sovereignty, it is essential that AI applications are developed in Europe that are compatible with European values and rules.
  • Big data and the data economy are core components of modern business models. Almost every economic activity generates data that can be used, for example, to evaluate production processes and optimise them. New business models can also arise from the integration of data into products and services and the sale of data. However, the management of data is only possible with a reliable infrastructure, as is the aim of the European GAIA-X project. Its goal is to create a transparent and uniform European data space.
  • The blockchain enables the secure storage of data and the secure transfer of assets without a central service provider. Instead, information is stored and secured decentrally and digitally. Based on this, contracts can be digitised and asset transfers can no longer be carried out only in virtual space, but digitally in real time. In addition, certificates and deeds can also be stored and retrieved on a blockchain in a forgery-proof manner.
  • The Internet of Things describes the increasing networking of all devices and also includes devices in private households. The Internet of Things thus goes one step further than the concept of Industry 4.0, which includes the digital networking of production facilities. The special feature of both concepts is that devices, machines and plants are not only digitally connected to each other, but can also react independently to changes within this network.
  • Micro and nano satellites are satellites with a maximum mass of 500 kilograms. They enable even better positioning, which opens up new possibilities especially for autonomous driving and autonomous flying. They can also enable mobile communication in places where there is no infrastructure.
  • Nanomaterials are substances with special properties that result from their microstructure. The best known is the lotus effect, which leads to self-cleaning surfaces, but also materials that return to their original shape after being compressed.
  • Neurotechnology deals with brain-computer interfaces or technologies that help compensate for and improve human performance. A well-known example of neurotechnology is the cochlear implant, an inner ear hearing prosthesis. Further developments can contribute to more inclusion for the people concerned.
  • Synthetic biology is a further development of genetic research. The development of Corona vaccines based on mRNA can be counted among these. In addition, mRNA-based drugs are considered to have great potential for curing cancer.
  • Photonics includes the further development of light sources such as light-emitting diodes and lasers, but also the use of glass fibres for the transmission of information. Optical measurement methods can also be combined with artificial intelligence.
  • Energy-efficient buildings and sustainable industry are core components of the transformation towards climate neutrality. The goal here is to minimise energy consumption in the building sector, increase sustainability in production and make the construction industry more resource and energy efficient. Carbon capture and storage is one such technology that can be used to capture and store so-called unavoidable emissions from certain industrial processes, for example in cement production

In the Technology and Trend Radar of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, these technologies are classified according to the following categories:

  • Networking: Many devices are already networked with each other in the industrial, but also in the private sector. Technologies that enable even faster and better networking between a large number of devices are 5G technology, gigabit WLAN, Bluetooth 5, the Internet of Things and cloud computing.
  • Virtualisation: In addition to augmented reality and virtual reality, this category also includes technologies such as the digital shadow or the digital twin.
  • Data processing: This includes data collection, data analysis and forecasting methods, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and deep learning, natural language processing, data analytics and quantum computing.
  • Processes: These are technologies such as AI security, distributed ledger technology or blockchain technology, but also digital work or democratisation of knowledge.
  • Products: Products and services such as app stores and digital marketplaces fall into this category. This area also includes 3D printing and 3D scanning and robotics as well as digital assistance systems. In addition, cryptocurrencies are assigned to this area.
  • Business models: This includes the sharing economy and the subscription economy, but also Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service or Software as a Service, which are summarised as Anything-as-a-Service or abbreviated XaaS. These services play an important role in the transformation and are discussed in more detail in section 5.6 in connection with leasing.

The multitude of possibilities points to disruptive trends that open up new paths. For competitiveness and also for Europe’s digital sovereignty and climate neutrality, it is essential to take a pioneering role technologically through innovations. This is because increasing networking and the possibility of managing data opens up new opportunities for companies to develop new products and services, address new customer groups and produce more efficiently. Digital monitoring and control technology also plays a significant role in achieving climate goals. Inactivity in these areas would quickly lead to companies in other regions of the world gaining competitive advantages and putting domestic companies on the spot in global markets.

The financing of these investments therefore plays a central role, for which existing financing instruments must be further developed and also new financing instruments created. Particularly in the case of leap innovations, it is apparent that these are often unable to obtain private financing due to low initial returns and high risks.

The study „Transformation in NRW“ makes proposals for NRW to better promote leap innovations. For example, the state of NRW could offer innovation competitions specialising in energy and environmental technology as well as artificial intelligence. These should be supplemented by networking with industry so that the ideas are further developed and implemented in companies. Fin.Connect.NRW can also provide support here by helping to strengthen the networking of companies and universities, thus also helping to strengthen NRW as a financial location.