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Importance and challenges of exploiting results of an R&D project

H2STEEL is a European research and development project that aims to develop an innovative technology for the production of green hydrogen and biocoal for using in steelmaking processes from various types of municipal waste. The project thus aims to actively contribute to the de-carbonization of the European steel sector.

R&D projects aim to explore new frontier technologies not yet widespread in industry, thus, aiming to improve and expand the technological landscape of society. These types of projects require large investments in the early stages of research and do not expect an economic return in the short term. For this reason, it is important to provide a structured exploitation plan right from the start to accompany a research and development project. Indeed, the purpose of the exploitation plan is to define how the results of the scientific research will be used to cover the initial investment and put the time and resources expended to full use.

R&D projects can be developed primarily within the R&D centers of an existing company, in a university environment, or in research centers. In each case, it is necessary to evaluate the possible alternatives, or paths, of exploitation depending on the specific case. There tend to be two different types of possible paths for a research project. First, the technologies developed can become new products, processes or services that can be commercialized directly by the company itself and usually possess enough competitive advantage to allow their rapid expansion in the market. Alternatively, some of the results of scientific research may be protected by intellectual property: in this case, the company that has ownership may decide to sell or license the patent related to its technology to third parties and benefit in this way from the outcomes of the research. Such paths will also be evaluated in the case of the H2STEEL project to see which one will be the most suitable for exploiting the technological outcomes obtained.

The general objectives of exploitation activities consist in the early identification and evaluation of alternative paths that can be narrowed to licensing patented research results, founding startups or university or corporate spin-offs to industrialize products, or establishing partnerships with appropriate industrial and financial players that can provide resources to achieve the widespread adoption of research results. 

The nature of R&D projects carries a high technological and market risk associated with the outcomes of these projects. For this reason, an exploitation plan is as important as delicate to structure, and it may need to be revised as research and its outcomes progress over time. A major challenge to anticipate and address is the selection of the best way to disseminate the results. Indeed it may be difficult, for many reasons, to share them with companies or organizations that are not originally involved in the project: this may limit their knowledge and prevent them from being effectively exploited within the defined timeframe. For these reasons, working on a research and development project always tends to be accompanied by a communication and dissemination plan that is aligned with the exploitation plan, in order to make it possible to involve industry stakeholders and market partners who are crucial to the success of the new technology.


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