Project summary

SmartPilots' objective is to improve regional policies in support of Shared Pilot Facilities (SPF) to increase their impact on the Key Enabling technology (KET) Industrial Biotech and the bio-economy.

The bio-economy adresses societal challenges such as climate change, sustainable economic growth and energy independence. The bio-economy enables the sustainable production of chemicals, pharmaceutical products, materials, food, feed and energy from renewable raw materials.

Shared pilot facilities (SPF) are open access test sites that bring bio-economy innovations from the laboratory into industrial practice. They are open to all companies and research institutes, and can thus be seen as shared investments in innovation equipment. They have proven to be successful in helping innovators, especially SMEs, to bridge the so-called Valley of Death, i.e. the innovation phase between between laboratory and successful market introduction, that comes with a high technological and financial risk. Typically, initial funding from governments is available to build a Shared Pilot Facility, but it is a challenge to safeguard their long-term existence, especially since bio-economy is relatively new and dedicated policies are currently lacking in many regions.

SmartPilots aims to improve regional policies to provide support in a cost-effective and impact oriented manner. This will be done by:

  • Optimizing direct support for shared pilot facilities
  • Optimizing indirect support i.e. direct support for users of shared pilot facilities
  • Facilitating interregional cooperation regarding Shared Pilot Facilities.

The Shared Pilot Facilities and regions involved are Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant and the Department of Economy, Science and Innovation from Flanders (Belgium), Centre for Process Innovation from Tees Valley (UK), VTT Technical Research Centre Ltd from Helsinki (Finland), Bioprocess Pilot Facility and Provincie Zuid Holland (the Netherlands), Innovhub SSI from Lombardy (Italy) and ARD (France) and Fraunhofer CBP (Germany) as Case Studies.


from 1 Apr 2016
to 30 Sep 2020

Research and innovation

How will SmartPilots achieve its aim?

Phase 1 (2016-2018):

Step 1: Each of the project partners makes a thorough regional analysis of availability and us of funding mechanisms for SPF and their users (through seven study visits and a questionnaire to relevant stakeholders).  

Step 2: During three interregional seminars (direct/indirect support; international collaboration), the results of these regional analyses will be compared and discussed and best-practices will be exchanged. The findings of the seminars will be summarized in Regional Factsheets, used to draw up regional action plans.

Phase 2 (2018-2020):

Regional implementation of the action plnas and monitoring of the results of the implementation.

!!!!! We invite ALL STAKEHOLDERS (managing authorities, intermediate bodies, regional funding authorities and applicants, funding beneficiaries, innovation organisations, users of SPF...) with an interest in shared pilot facilites and innovation to be actively involved in the SmartPilots study visits and interregional seminars !!!

What policy instruments does the project address?

The OP puts priority in increasing the R&D intensity from 2,4% (2011) to 3% (2020). The investment priorities to achieve this are

1.1. Strengthening infrastructure for R&I and the capacities for developing top performance, and the promotion of centers of expertise, in particular those of European importance

1.2. Promotion of company investments in R&I by open innovation and support of technological, applied research and testing grounds for fast product validation and first productions. The emphasis is on the Flemish Smart Specialisation Strategy that includes the KET Industrial Biotechnology as driver of the bio-based economy, as part of the Smart Specialisation domain 'Sustainable Chemistry'.


Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant (BBEPP), a rather recent, open innovation, shared pilot infrastructure, is an innovation infrastructure as described in priority 1.1 that enables priority 1.2 for the bio-based economy.

Support to BBEPP is currently on an ad-hoc basis and supported international cooperation is very difficult. This situation jeopardizes long-term business planning for BBEPP and puts its long-term viability at stake. However, BBEPP proved to play a detrimental role in various innovations.


As stated above, a general framework for support to research infrastructures like BBEPP (SPF) exist. Improvements in the OP will therefore consider how to address:

- High capital investment and high maintenance costs of SPF

- Support for users of SPF from within and outside of the region

Which partners are working on this?
  • Bio Base Europe Pilot Plant
  • Department of Economy, Science and Innovation – Flemish Government

Finland’s operational programme has 6 thematic objectives and 10 investment priorities. RDI is addressed especially in thematic objective 1 that includes R&I infrastructures in 2 of its investment priorities of which 1 will be targeted:

1a) Enhancing research and innovation (R&I) infrastructure and capacities to develop R&I excellence, and promoting centres of competence, in particular those of European interest.

The investment priority highlights amongst others support to R&I infrastructure, pilot lines, demonstration and early product validation actions particular in the field of Key Enabling Technologies (KET) as well as increasing closer cooperation between industry and research community. Bioeconomy is seen as one of sectors with special focus. Although mentioned, the OP does not describe how the support will be organised nationally or regionally.

VTT’s Bioruukki pilot plant is a major regional innovation platform in the field of bioeconomy bringing together different actors: large enterprises, SMEs, academia, RTOs and municipalities, also from outside the region, thus having a key role in the innovation-driven Bioeconomy Transformation in Finland. Besides this VTT Bioruukki pilot plant is the largest innovation hub in Northern Europe.

It would be important to understand:

- How to facilitate and support long term investment for VTT Bioruukki pilot plant

- How the access of industry and other users to open technology infrastructures is supported best

Which partners are working on this?
  • VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd

Throughout 2014-2020 the region of Western-Netherlands (provinces Zuid-Holland, Noord-Holland, Utrecht and Flevoland) receives ERDF funds (€189,847,057). The funds will be used, in combination with co-financing, to boost the region's potential for R&I while at the same time contributing to the development of a resource efficient, low-carbon economy.

The region recognizes the need for targeted investments and takes into account its socio-economic profile, the European Council’s country specific recommendations, the overarching European & national strategies in particular the RIS3 of Western-Netherlands. The OP will therefore;

-promote business investment in R&I, develop links and synergies between enterprises, R&D centres, knowledge institutions and the higher education sector, and foster cross-overs between the regional sectors;

-facilitate the use on a larger scale of energy derived from residual heat and stimulate the roll-out of energy saving measures in the building environment.

Part of the challenges is the problem of the fossil based economy. Bio-pilot plants have a role in the transition to a biobased economy. Bioprocess Pilot Facility Delft (PP5) is a project supported by the region in the former operational programme “Kansen voor West 1”.

Problem: In the Province of South Holland and in the OP adressed, there are no projects worked out to support the use of pilot infrastructure by innovators (companies, SMEs, R&D centers), although the OP allows for this.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Bioprocess Pilot Facility
  • Province of Zuid-Holland

We focus on Thematic Objective 1: Strengthening Research, Technological Development and Innovation

There are five activities in support of this objective -

• Provide direct support for innovation in enterprises

• Enhance business capacity for innovation support in enterprises

• Support innovative and collaborative projects, particularly across sectors

• Create new Open Access Technology Centres

• Support SMEs to accelerate the development, innovation, adoption, employment and cost reduction of low carbon technologies, goods and services


These activities provide a good opportunity for SMEs to pilot new technologies, however, there are a number of aspects to piloting within IB that need consideration through the policy instrument.

• The high level of capital investment required for IB piloting/demonstration

• The long lead time for new technologies to reach pilot requirement stage

• The high revenue and capex to maintain and adapt pilot facilities to process sustainable feedstocks and incorporate novel process technologies and products

• The High cost of maintaining pilot facilities and intermittent demand for facilities must be considered in public funding mechanisms.

• How to enable wider support to businesses nationally and across Europe without access to pilot facilities

• The high but long term growth potential and sustainability of the emerging IB market

• The need to effectively utilise national and European assets, resources and networks

Which partners are working on this?
  • Centre for Process Innovation

The OP of Lombardy focuses on three main goals in order to implement a regional strategy coherent with a “smart, sustainable and inclusive” growth:

1. Set the Region back on a sustainable growth path

2. Increase system productivity (both private and public)

3. Increase companies’ competitiveness

The first activity line (Asse I) implementing these goals, with a budget of 349 ml€ – 36% of the whole ERDF funding – is “Strengthening R&D&I” with the goal to reach by 2020 an R&D&I expenditure on DGP of at least 1,53%.

Its main goal is to promote companies’ investments in R&D&I and foster cooperation between companies, R&D centres and universities, in order to develop new products and services, technology transfer, promote social and eco-innovation, networks, clusters and open innovation. The goal is also to support applied research, pilot lines, early validation of innovation, advanced manufacturing with special focus on KETs.

Specific measures for supporting Research Infrastructure are not currently defined, but the Regional Government is interested in their implementation. Within its Smart Specialisation Strategy, Lombardy identified 7 Areas, one of which focuses on Eco-industries, including the bioeconomy. The OP framework to support R&I exsists, but specific measures are not defined. SmartPilots will help to define good projects within the frame of the OP.

Which partners are working on this?
  • Innovhub SSI