Financial crisis and the role of innovation


Sondre Jacobsen (CEO InnSep AS, far left) in the NTNU laboratories discussing the challenges of bridging the gap between basic research and commercial applications of clean technology with Johan Hustad (Pro-Rector for Innovation at NTNU, far right) and Tore Sandvik (County Mayor, second from right). Picture courtesy of NTNU

Sondre Jacobsen (CEO InnSep AS, far left) in the NTNU laboratories discussing the challenges of bridging the gap between basic research and commercial applications of clean technology with Johan Hustad (Pro-Rector for Innovation at NTNU, far right) and Tore Sandvik (County Mayor, second from right). Picture courtesy of NTNU


The economic downturn has brutally communicated that current solutions to both financial and environmental challenges are not sufficient. We must be able to perform more and achieve better results, with fewer costs, less energy and less environmental impact. This has been the primary driving force for innovation since the wheel was invented.

Add dedicated innovation funding and support into the process and the stage is set for the possibility of an unprecedented increase in innovation in Europe. More and more people face adaptation to changes by taking charge of their own situation, their own competence and by driving innovative ideas. In Norway, the downturn in the oil prices has released a large amount of highly skilled personnel from the oil industry. Many have become innovators and entrepreneurs, using their skills to take charge of and develop solutions.

Pioneering new technology drives the progress towards a cleaner environment and a sustainable future. Universities around the world represent many of the major achievements and advances in clean technology by performing the basic research that is the all important foundation of applied research. But the transition from university basic research and concepts to profitable business is difficult and littered with failures.

Failures are in many cases attributed to a few main factors:

  • Underestimating the required R&D time;
  • Not understanding the market demands; and
  • Insufficient funding to handle point one and two above

How can this be solved? How does the Norwegian University of Technology and Science in Trondheim work with industrial companies and businesses to avoid these factors?

Early termination of unfeasible innovation projects frees resources to focus on other commercially viable R&D projects.

At the Norwegian University of Science and Technology ( commercialisation of basic and applied research is planned with experienced project managers situated at the university technology transfer office, NTNU Technology Transfer AS ( The main task is to identify the necessary steps in the research and development process and associate every step with a clear milestone and IP rights. The milestones represent a decision point on whether the project should continue for commercialization, with commercial partners, or be terminated. Sometimes the project staff will discover that the R&D requirements will exceed the available funding, rendering the process unfeasible.

When a disruptive technology is introduced, skilled personnel may refuse to take the risk and decide to stick to ‘business as usual’. Risk averse industries will have professionals that are used to a certain regime of technology where incremental innovation is preferred. It is not uncommon to be met with the demand of several years’ operational time before a purchase is possible. In a sense, achieving operation time is a part of the R&D process. If the R&D project plan and milestones do not reflect this, the result may be a developed product, but without a market or sufficient funding.

Disruptive innovation requires knowledge, experience and funding in close collaboration to succeed. The special model employed at the Department of Energy and Process Engineering at NTNU allows private companies to access labs at significantly lower rates when the goal is to perform innovative research projects with commercial potential, environmental impact and publication opportunities.

Success is not only in the result itself, but in what the process generates

Private companies are the critical drivers of innovation; they are the front lines of the commercialisation necessary for the innovation to survive. With government funding as fuel, industrial actors in Europe have access to unlimited research results. Success is difficult, but the risk is greatly reduced when academia and industry manage to co-operate.

At NTNU, the partnerships with industry results in win-win scenarios for all parties. The private company completes the partnership with a stake in the generated IP and the valuable knowledge necessary to succeed with the technology. The university retains the lab and equipment and can continue to perform experiments and research in related areas. Society benefits from new technology and solutions made available to end-users. Finally, successful commercialisation usually entails increased earnings for the company and, thereby, increased tax income for the governments.

The model of commercialisation at NTNU stimulates industries to take a more active role in innovation. It has enabled InnSep AS to take part in research developments that otherwise would have ended up in a publication on a library shelf, and research operations to be moved from the scientific community and into the core operations of the company, generating value in shared information and experiences. At the time of writing, InnSep and NTNU, with other industrial partners, have collaborated to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing the maritime industry: How to clean exhaust emissions efficiently from ships. It is a long road, but with government funding and university creativity, knowledge and scientific methods, the solutions are gradually coming into focus. Together with industry knowledge and the experience of industrial partners, this gives the best possible success factors for the forthcoming innovations.

For more information on NTNU:

For more information on NTNU Technology Transfer Office:

This editorial was written for Pan European Networks publication, higlighting the role of innovation in developing clean technology: 

Filtering the Fumes – InnSep AS talks about filtering emissions from ships

This editorial will be published in the forthcoming Pan European Networks publication «Government 17», in February/March 2016 but is presented for reading advance on the homepage.  

The importance of filtering the emissions from ship exhausts for a greener, renewable future in shipping

Picture ©2016 Genc Media AS,

Picture courtesy of Genc Media AS,


The source of pollution is the use of resources, mixing and combustion and releasing the byproducts back into Nature. In essence, we are taking fundamental chemicals and materials that Nature has refined for us through solar energy and combining them in new ways. This combination results in what we perceive as pollution. Chemicals and compounds distributed where they should not be. An ideal sustainable situation would be if we were able to separate the consumed materials back into their original form and re-use them; or return them to their original place in Nature, if technology no longer requires them. Since the Industrial Revolution, nonrenewable resources have been consumed at the highest rate possible, without regard to environmental impacts. With the new IMO regulations, a step has been taken in the right direction. Ships can no longer distribute NOx and SOx particles freely in residential areas. They must separate those harmful contaminants from the exhaust, and distribute the particles into the sea where it is better absorbed without damaging the environment.


Currently, 60% of global ports are covered by these regulations, and it is intended that they will apply to 100% of global ports in the new future. This puts pressure on the 60,000 ships that are using heavy fuel oil with up to 3% Sulphur (SOx) content. The main issue is the separation challenge. To separate SOx, NOx and other particles the exhaust must be showered with salt water, which reacts with and captures particles. These contaminated water droplets must then be captured and separated from the clean exhaust before the contents are discharged. The contaminated sea water must be collected and distributed in the open sea, far from harbours. The process can consume between 20-30 tonnes of water per hour. The sheer volume and weight required for the efficient separation of exhaust fumes comes with a steep price tag. So steep that for many, if not most shipowners, this simply will not be profitable.


Several consortiums and companies are developing solutions that are installed and tested in full scale. Unfortunately these solutions rely on conventional separation systems where gravity is the main force for collection of the contaminated water. This is the critical limiting factor for separation in ship exhausts and the critical problem that InnSep AS, in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, has decided to solve. The solution is simple: the use of centrifugal force to capture the separated byproducts. Unlike gravity, centrifugal force is not constant, we can increase it indefinitely. Higher collection force equals less volume required for the separator. In the laboratories, successful trials have been performed which resulted in the required efficiency for separation being achieved with an 80% reduction of separator footprint and volume. This technology was developed for the oil and gas industry for more efficient oil production and protection of compressors, pipes and sensitive equipment. The same principle was also developed for the restaurant industry for collecting cooking fats, oils and liquids in the air before they are ventilated. In the US alone an estimated 6,200 fires happen every year in restaurants due to ignition of deposited oils in the ventilation systems.


Now we are planning to develop this separation system for the global shipping industry. Funded by the the Research Council of Norway (, a preliminary investigation has been performed outlining the challenges and possible solutions. The conclusion is twofold: This new principle can be used for all separation issues for ship exhaust gases. Secondly, the principle can be developed for retrofit on existing ships’ separator systems that are not performing optimally. In 2016 the first groundwork will be set for actual product development of this principle. Shipowners and providers of ship exhaust gas cleaning systems are invited to collaborate with InnSep and NTNU department of Energy and Process Engineering to take the final step towards efficient and sustainable ship exhaust separation.


Sondre K. Jacobsen
InnSep AS
+47 9804 3205