The Future Of Innovation .. Guaranteed By Compelling Global Problem-solving Needs

Mr Jorma Nieminen

The future of innovation seems guaranteed with the world facing tremendous challenges. This paper views some particularly important innovation domains defined by conspicuous global problems. Supply of energy, drinking water and food must be met while simultaneously reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the economy in shape enabling continued improvement of living conditions, health and education. Related problem in many countries is excessive population growth while in others it is the collapsed birth-rate and fast-aging population, disturbing demographic structures and economic balance. Security of people implies a need to pre-empt, contain and manage conflicts, terrorism and crime within democratic frameworks. Obviously, described challenges, standing for many, can be overcome only by massive array of innovations spanning several research fields from “hardcore” natural sciences to “softest” social sciences.

The focus here is the paramount challenge of securing the global energy supply while reducing greenhouse gases and maintaining healthy economy. The per capita energy consumption can be reduced most effectively by innovating low-energy industrial processes, smart location-optimised zero-energy buildings and re-engineered energy-optimised transportation systems. Regarding transportation, energy efficiency can be improved greatly by optimised role-division between public and private transport, and with results from the on-going race between competing vehicle propulsion concepts in the triangle oil-based fuels, grid-electricity and hydrogen. Sophisticated vehicular multi-sensor control and communication systems lead evolution towards automatic highways. By employing super-broadband services in the emerging ubiquitous optical networks, inter-connecting buildings globally, we can innovate enhanced-functionality virtual activities in businesses, public sector, culture and private-life that now need physical presence and travel with energy and time usage. To manage this all globally, we need innumerable interdisciplinary innovation teams of varying scale and broad competence ranges.

For minimal carbon-footprint, we need increased production of zero-emission energy, including solar, wind, hydro, tidal, geothermal but also nuclear – fission now and fusion when available. Indeed, we cannot exclude nuclear energy if we are serious about climate control! Incremental innovation improves techno-economic performance of traditional zero-emission sources. Radical innovation is in sight for low-cost massive hydrogen production by using photosynthesis with cyanobacteria, studied in several universities, including University of Turku. Presently rather low efficiency of such hydrogen production may be greatly improved by genetic re-engineering of the used cyanobacteria, for instance. Ample supply of low-cost hydrogen will enable practical zero-emission motor vehicles.

The future innovation activity is not only about inventing new solutions but also about diffusing them successfully to bear on the targeted problems. For many serious global problems, there are good solutions that, for varying reasons, have not been implemented everywhere. In such cases, diffusion research may provide clues for how to innovate around such implementation barriers. Innovation has been the main carrier of human progress since invention of language, cutting stones and fire, and will remain so until our sun goes red and dies some five billion years from now. The real innovation challenge is well before that date when we need to find ways of moving the humankind to circle some younger star in our galaxy.

Article © 2009 Mr Jorma Nieminen. All rights reserved.

about the author...

Mr Jorma Nieminen

Mr Jorma Nieminen

affiliation:   Turku School Of Economics

position:  Doctoral student

country:  Finland

area of interest:  Global innovation future roadmap

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