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Clean Tech Innovation Takes The Prize

In the past several years, there has been a clear increase in the number of clean tech finalists for the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises’ Innovation Prize, the award recognizing commercially successful products and services with the most promising future. This latest trend highlights the revitalization of two of Norway’s traditional industries, oil and shipping, and brings them into a new green technology era.

The Confederation of Norwegian Enterprises (NHO), the main representative body for Norwegian employers, created the Innovation Prize in 1981. In the beginning, many of the awards went to the oil service sector, a natural reflection of the country’s booming petroleum industry. One example is EMGS, which won for its innovative survey technology that finds offshore oil and gas reservoirs by sending electromagnetic energy into the rocks beneath the seabed.

Lately, though, the winners and finalists have been going to companies in renewable energy and environmental technology. In 2007, Wema won for its work in reducing NO2 emissions from diesel motors. In 2009, one of the three finalists was Metallkraft, a slurry recovery company for the solar cell industry, and the winner Kjeller Vindteknikk, a wind measuring consultancy provider that has successfully tapped the offshore wind power market.

Kjeller Vindteknikk senior advisor Erik Berge and managing director Lars Tallhaug accept the 2009 Innovation Prize from then NHO director general Finn Bergesen Jr. © NHO/Anne Birgitte Hjelseth

The Dinosaurs Awaken
Part of the reason why more awards have gone to renewable energy-related companies has been the general revitalization of the country’s more traditional industries, according to Daniel Ras-Vidal, NHO advisor for the clean tech sector and coordinator for the Innovation Prize. Norway’s aluminium and metallurgical industries have been struggling with margins and an expensive labour force at home, and they needed to renew themselves.

It was thanks to Norwegian entrepreneurs such as former Elkem research and development director Alf Bjørseth that a new industry within solar energy emerged in Norway. Early on he saw the opportunity to convert abandoned aluminium production facilities for silicon wafer production. He established Norway’s first silicon wafer plant in 1997 under ScanWafer, now part of Renewable Energy Corporation, one of the world’s largest producers of silicon materials and photovoltaic wafers.

Another impetus has been the increased push for renewable energy in the wake of the EU’s 2020 climate goals and the Renewable Energy Sources Directive. Although close to 100% of Norway’s domestic electricity production is supplied by hydropower, the country will still most likely have to increase its percentage of renewable energy because of the RES directive. As a result, there will be a need for a whole host of clean tech services.

“The biggest driver is the expectation that clean-tech will be a major new industrial sector globally,” said Ras-Vidal. “If you don’t position yourself now, you’ll miss out.”

Norway’s minister of trade and industry Trond Giske visited Metallkraft’s plant in Yangzhou, China in January 2010. Metallkraft was a finalist for the 2009 Innovation Prize. © NHD

The Winds of Change
The latest winner, Kjeller Vindteknikk, is a perfect example. The company provides a specialized competency that will be needed for future offshore projects internationally, particularly as the industry moves towards deeper water developments.

The company was founded by three entrepreneurs at the Institute for Energy Technology in Kjeller who identified that the combination of climate change and new technology for renewable energy, such as wind power, would create a demand for advanced technical services, analysis and measurement systems. The innovative part is their ability to provide a low-cost way for energy companies to decide whether a wind park location will be a profitable investment.

“The main reason they won is that they tapped into the market in Norway and Sweden and they started early on to see this market emerging for deepwater offshore,” said Ras-Vidal.

The company is currently positioning itself to become a supplier for the first large-scale deep offshore wind farms at Dogger Bank in the UK part of the North Sea, which is being developed by Norwegian companies Statfkraft and Statoil, along with RWE and Scottish & Southern. Kjeller Vinteknikk is also participating in a EUR 7 million EU-funded study called NORSEWIND that will prepare a wind atlas for the North Sea, Irish Sea and Baltic Sea.

From Waste to Solar Profits
The company’s rival for the 2009 prize was Metallkraft, one of three finalists. The Kristiansand-based company recycles the exhausted slurry used in the saw machines while cutting solar wafers. Cutting wafers requires large amounts of slurry, a combination of abrasive silicon carbide particles and glycol, and it is quickly polluted during the cutting process by silicon dust, metal particles from the saw wire, and water.

Metallkraft’s innovation was a patented technology that ensures that the spent slurry is effectively recycled and all pollutants are turned into commercially interesting products. The recycled slurry retains its cutting abilities at a fraction of the cost of fresh slurry.

The initial idea for the company came from Knut Henriksen, an Elkem research director who identified silicon carbide slurry recovery and extraction of pure solar grade silicon from this slurry as an interesting opportunity. In 1999, Henriksen built up a research capability within Metallkraft. By 2006 he had reached the necessary technological breakthroughs to commercialize the concept. A year later, the company was valued at NOK 225 million.

One of its advantages over competitors is the company’s flexibility to adapt to its customers needs for cutting thinner wafers using thinner threads, according to Gunnar Kulia, Metallkraft chief executive. Metallkraft’s technology has proven so successful that the company has gone on to build factories in Yangzhou, China and Singapore, where it serves REC Wafer with recycling services.

“We were one of those who moved into China early,” said Kulia. “We are one of the few companies that have an environmental technology export in internal Chinese markets within solar PV. For us, it was a very clear strategy to be present in such an important market.”

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