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Plenary Talk
Towards a Resource Resilient Society via the Triple Helix Concept
Tom Hennebel1, Diran Apelian2, Christina Meskers3, Karolien Vasseur1, Mieke Campforts3
Maurits Van Camp1
Group Research & Development, Watertorenstraat 33, 2250 Olen, Belgium
Processing Institute (MPI), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, 100 Institute Road, Worcester (MA)
01609-2280, USA
3Umicore Precious Metals Refining, Adolf Greinerstraat 14, 2660 Hoboken, Belgium
Keywords: circular economy, sustainable development, entrepreneurship, innovation
The global demand for technological materials is continuously increasing as the world’s population is increasing
in tandem with increasing standard of living, especially in emerging and developing countries. Inorganic materials
are not a renewable resource; the challenge we face in the 21st century is sustainable development of our
materials supply. To secure a reliable and sustainable supply of critical materials, innovative solutions need to be
developed along the entire value chain. Here a circular economy is not an option but a pathway towards a
resource resilient society. This transition requires multi-stakeholder partnerships that foster innovation and
entrepreneurship, which can be obtained by applying the Triple Helix concept. The Triple Helix can be defined as
a set of (1) components (university, industry and government); (2) relationships between components
(collaboration and conflict moderation, collaborative leadership, substitution and networking); and (3) functions,
described as processes taking place in the ‘Knowledge, Innovation and Consensus Spaces’1.
The first milestone towards a resource resilient society is the deep permeation of all societal challenges and
sustainability concepts throughout the components of the helix. In that aspect, it is crucial to respect the
inevitable connection between these challenges, as material scarcity closely interlinks with e.g. climate change,
energy and water scarcity. This commences at university level by giving societal challenges and sustainability
concepts a central role throughout all curricula, ranging from engineer trainings over social sciences to business
schools. Additionally, a broader public can be reached by organizing massive open online courses. Although this
is relative straightforward for universities and governmental organizations, building industrial processes around
these concepts are less attainable. In this presentation, we will elaborate on how Umicore is effectively doing so.
The second milestone is determining clear programs within societal challenges, i.e. the functions of the Triple
Helix. In case of sustainable material supply, the focus should be on sustainable mining and material production
methods, substitution of critical metals and recovery of metals from secondary sources. Umicore can be
considered a unique industry component since it operates across this entire value chain and therefore embodies
the idea of a circular economy in its DNA. Next to being an integral part of the recycling chain, Umicore is part of
the manufacturing industry via production of high value added materials as well as via the treatment of
production waste. Furthermore, Umicore interfaces with the mining and primary metals industry for eco-efficient
treatment of by-products and residues.
The third milestone is the creation of an entrepreneurial and innovative mentality in all components of the helix.
The entrepreneurial university, which takes a pro-active stance in putting active knowledge to use and to create
new knowledge, is a central concept in obtaining this1. Furthermore, the relationships between the components is
of crucial importance as the challenges come with a high degree of complexity and multidisciplinarity which
individual helix components cannot resolve looking at the functions they can work on. The value of these
relationships in executing the functions is recognized by the implementation of varying platforms worldwide such
as a “Knowledge and Innovation Community” (KIC) on raw materials in Europe and Energy Innovation Hubs
(EIH) and Engineering Research Centers (ERCs) in the United States. The role, importance and methodology of
Umicore, both as industrial component and contributor via collaboration and networking to the university and
government component, in such initiatives (KIC, Critical Material Hub and Center for Resource Recovery and
Recycling) will be elucidated.
Ranga, M. and Etkowitz, H. (2013) Triple Helix Systems: An Analytical Framework for Innovation Policy and
Practice in the Knowledge Society. Industry and Higher Education 27(4): 237-262