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Understanding Radical Technology Innovation and its Application to CO2 Capture R&D: Interim Report, Volume One—Literature Review

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journal contribution
posted on 30.05.2008 by Amanda Slocum, Edward Rubin
In recent years there has been growing interest in pursuing “radical” innovations in energy and environmental technologies to ameliorate the problems of global climate change and to ensure a more sustainable energy future. In the public realm, R&D managers and policymakers have proposed a range of new programs, funds and government agencies to pursue this idea. This report reviews the published literature on radical innovation to establish a baseline of current understanding of this concept and means of achieving such goals. The results of this review indicate that there has been little research directed toward understanding how a public R&D program could systematically achieve radical or breakthrough technologies, and that defining radical innovation remains challenging and elusive. This review also finds that radical innovation in large technological systems such as electricity supply is difficult to achieve; that it often requires clusters of complementary innovations; and that it tends to occur over long periods of time—often on the order of 6-8 decades. Success also often depends upon significant and sustained government policy support. The literature further indicates that little if any research on radical innovation has specifically addressed environmental control technologies for fossil-energy systems. In this context, further research is needed to more fully characterize what types of changes are implied by terms such as “radical,” “breakthrough” or “revolutionary” when applied to innovations in fossil energy environmental control technologies.


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