The European Commission recognized the potential of the consortium of Slovene partners, led by the University of Primorska, and awarded it with a grant of almost 15 million Euros to establish the Renewable Materials and Healthy Environments Research and Innovation Centre of Excellence (InnoRenew CoE). The Government of the Republic of Slovenia added 30 million Euros of investment funding to boost development of the new research centre.
The Centre of Excellence will pursue research, development, and innovation in renewable materials use, with a focus on supporting the circular economy and providing positive health benefits in buildings. The centre will elevate Slovenia to the forefront of sustainable building research in Europe. Drawing from the interdisciplinary knowledge and skills of the consortium and partnership, and from its mentor institute, Fraunhofer WKI, the InnoRenew CoE will develop new, smart, sustainable and modern living environments suitable for all generations.
InnoRenew CoE will strive to become an international hub of scientific excellence in the field of renewable materials and ensuring quality of life. The new centre of excellence will bring excellent original scientific discoveries and offer support to research, development, and innovation in Slovenia and abroad. With an extensive public engagement programme, the centre will also emphasise the importance of the use of renewable materials and of sustainable development to industry, the public, and policymakers alike.
Andreja Kutnar, project leader, emphasised that, “everyone will be welcome at the centre and we believe it will become a good example of cooperation between researchers, industry, and the public. We will lead the transformation of the Slovenian and European industry be knowledge driven and accomplish more with our limited renewable resources than ever before. This shift will enable the industries we will work with to gain competitive advantages in the world market.”
The number of institutions involved in the projects outreach and stakeholder network (Living Laboratory InnoRenew) confirmed the need for such a centre and supported its development. 62 partners from 20 countries joined the group, which range from small and large enterprises to research organisations and public institutions. Living laboratory InnoRenew gathered to collaboratively explore, design, and validate themes, opportunities, and risks for new innovative renewable material based products, services, and systems. The Living Laboratory is a research concept focused user-led design and engagement in an open, innovative ecosystem, which brings together research and innovation processes in a public-private partnership. It emphasises systematic cooperation among stakeholders in open and joint development of new ideas, products, and solutions.
The project was developed by 9 partners. The University of Primorska is the project coordinator, while the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research – Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut – an advanced institution for research, development, and industry innovation from Germany, acted as a mentor institution. Other partners involved in the project are the University of Maribor, the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia, the Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute, the Pulp and Paper Institute, Eurocloud Slovenia, the National Institute of Public Health, and the Regional Development Agency of the Ljubljana Urban Region.
Partners used a half a million Euro starting grant from the European Commission to develop the project and prepare a business plan for the centre. The outcome was an second-stage proposal and highly developed business plan that has been awarded with additional funding by the European Commission and the Government of the Republic of Slovenia. Public funding will be available to the centre for five years. In this period, conditions for independent and sustainable operation of the centre will be laid down.
Andreja Kutnar added, “I believe that in five years of the centre’s operation, we will make a significant contribution to the growth of Slovene economy, to the growth of the employee added-value and to the elimination of breaks in the forest-wood chain. We will reach a point in Slovenia where Slovenian wood products and solutions will be used for high-value purposes throughout the world and our research and innovation will influence the development of the sector globally.”
Residents of the Primorska region will be able to observe the centre in their environment, as the region will host the newly built centre, which will give employment to more than 50 excellent scientists coming from all over the world.
The broader societal impacts of the project will be seen as the forest and construction sectors become more innovation and knowledge based. The products they will produce from the outputs of the new centre will be better for the environment, produce positive health impacts for building users, and provide the foundation for the recovery and development of regional forest sector and construction companies.