“How can we at Yara meet the international competition with our product?” was the rhetorical question of Yara Finance Director Torgeir Kvidal. “The answer is research and development. And we have a special focus on three areas: added value in the products, environmental improvements and customer partnerships.”
A 100-strong audience of the industrial park's customers and business partners listened with interest to Yara Finance Director Torgeir Kvidal and SINTEF Group Director Unni Steinsmo (on the right in the bottom photograph)
Research, development and innovation were in focus when Herøya Industrial Park invited a hundred or so customers and business partners to “Industrial Meeting Point 2014” at the “DuVerden” knowledge centre in Porsgrunn. Yara Finance Director Torgeir Kvidal and SINTEF Group Director Unni Steinsmo gave talks, followed by questions and viewpoints from the audience.
Three important trends Yara faces three trends in its daily work. The world’s population is growing and prosperity is rising globally. This is leading to a change in diet, from rice to fruit, vegetables and meat. At the same time, urbanisation is on the increase. And finally there is the problem of global poverty.
“If we can help solve these problems, we are helping solve a massive social problem,” Kvidal said.
“We tackle the challenges by widening our perspective. That means that we are involved in our customers’ needs and the needs of society. In 2010, we made a step change in the company, and began to focus more on research and development. We now have 130 R&D employees at Herøya in Porsgrunn, and in other departments round about, all working on the production environments at our 23 factories and on Yara’s sales organisations all over the world. Interactivity between researchers, factory people and sales staff is giving good results.”
Yara is concentrating its R&D activities in three areas: giving the products added value, a better environment and developing new markets.
“We produce simple chemical compounds, and, to a large extent, supply the same products today as we did a hundred years ago. How can we extract added value from products like this?” Kvidal asked, before himself giving the answer: “Quality, efficient production and a brand which is trusted by the market – those are some of the factors. We are not just selling a physical product. We are communicating knowledge to small farmers all over the world.”
Skills Communicating knowledge is something Hydro/Yara has always done. Previously, agronomists were responsible for knowledge sharing. Nowadays, communication still rests on the skills of the agronomists, but new tools are being taken up. Yara has developed an app for helping farmers with fertilisation.
The environment is another area of improvement. “Yara was among the first to define climate gases as a problem, and emissions of these from the factories have been greatly reduced in the last ten years. Our research has led us to install catalyser solutions in all our ammonium nitrate factories. This has led to a dramatic reduction in emissions, and we have licensed the technology to other fertiliser manufacturers,” the Finance Director explains.
“At the same time, we work alongside food producers, small farmers and the university to optimise fertilisation so as to reduce emissions from the products. In the UK, together with PepsiCo, we have reduced emissions from the production of potato crisps by 27 per cent.”
Green revolution “We meet the challenges by taking a wider perspective,” Yara Finance Director Torgeir Kvidal says.
A green revolution is under way in agriculture. Over a period of time the proportion of the world used for agriculture has increased by 27 per cent. In the same period, food production has gone up by 135 per cent. But this is not the case in sub-Saharan Africa. Here, yields are only a tenth as much, and the use of fertiliser is just as low. This leads to impoverishment of the topsoil.
“Yara wishes to assist the development of agriculture in Africa, and we believe this must be a market-based solution,” Kvidal says. “If farmers are to be able to buy seed and fertiliser, there must be a market for selling the products. Our contribution is knowledge and the necessary infrastructure. Among other initiatives, we have built a fertiliser terminal in Tanzania, while others are contributing with roads and warehouse buildings.
“Innovation helps us achieve greater added value from our standard products. The environment is important for us – including at the marketing level – and we are working on relations with our customers. Yara has achieved much, but we cannot afford to relax. We look to the future, and are always trying to identify new opportunities, so as to avoid being overtaken from behind,” the Finance Director concluded.
SINTEF in Grenland Group Director Unni Steinsmo spoke about SINTEF’s contribution to industrial development nationally and regionally – starting with the example of Herøya Industrial Park.
“SINTEF is represented in Grenland district by its subsidiary Molab. This company is engaged on various issues in industry, the environment and R&D support for customers over the whole of Norway. We have a long history of cooperation with enterprises in Grenland, and at SINTEF we believe that industrial skills are important for creating future value.”
SINTEF has gone from being a projects office for NTH (now NTNU – the Norwegian University of Marine and Maritime Technology), to one of Europe’s largest companies in commissioned research. Its annual turnover stands at around NOK 3 bn, and the company has 2100 employees from 70 countries. 46 per cent of its researchers have a doctorate.
“We live in the age of technology,” Steinsmo says. “We have a high level of knowledge and a high need for knowledge. The technological race is a worldwide phenomenon, and the capacity to innovate is our most important competitive advantage.”
The low carbon society Nanotechnology, biotechnology and advanced fabrication will characterise the future. “The regions and countries which have mastered these technologies will be at the forefront of the transition to the low-carbon society,” the Group Director quoted from an EU report.
“The process industry is the bedrock of the European economy, but is struggling with falling global competitiveness. In the future, experience-based innovation will not be enough. Companies will have to concentrate on research-based innovation. It is good to see that the Norwegian process industry is well ahead in this area. Maritime activities and the construction sector have learnt the lesson of using research in their development.”
Riding on a wave Steinsmo also suggested that it would be possible to strengthen industry in Norway by making use of modern robot technology. Industrial automation and biotechnology will lead to wide-reaching changes in our working day.
Director of Herøya Industrial Park Thor Oscar Bolstad summed up the two talks and discussion. “We can now bury the expression ‘labour-intensive industry’. From now on, knowledge-based industry is what counts. The use of enabling technology and advanced manufacture – that is where future development lies. I am also pleased that our speakers really believe in shore-based industry. In my opinion, shore-based industry is riding a wave,” he concluded.