The role of natural resources in path development. The case of the bioeconomy

Teis Hansen, Antje Klikou, Anne Nygaard Tanner

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    The last decade has witnessed a radical increase in attention to the bioeconomy, both in terms of academic research (Bugge, Hansen, & Klitkou, 2016) and policymaking (Richardson, 2012). Arguments in favour of a bioeconomy are often related to assumed positive effects in terms of addressing multiple grand challenges (Coenen, Hansen, & Rekers, 2015), in particular climate change, health and energy security (Ollikainen, 2014; Pülzl, Kleinschmit, & Arts, 2014). However, opportunities for economic development associated with the transition to a bioeconomy are also repeatedly emphasised (Bugge et al., 2016; Pollack, 2012; Staffas, Gustavsson, & McCormick, 2013). Arguably, the bioeconomy necessitates and opens new opportunities for industrial development and restructuring, yet, a deeper understanding of these processes in the bioeconomy context is currently lacking. A central analytical perspective in economic geography to understand such industrial development processes is the concepts of path creation and path renewal. Insights from evolutionary economic geography have in particular highlighted that new industrial paths are likely to appear through a branching process where existing technological specialisations in regions condition future industrial diversification (Boschma & Frenken, 2012; Neffke, Henning, & Boschma, 2011). The underlying explanation is that localised knowledge spills over between technologically related fields and, thus, leads to new industry formation. While it is generally accepted in the literature that such regionally contained knowledge spillovers are important for path development processes, critiques have recently been raised concerning the lack of attention towards other potentially important factors. Thus, in addition to the existence of relevant knowledge, certain regions may also provide particularly fertile market conditions (Tanner, 2014) or support for new industries through the actions of public and quasi-public organisations (Dawley, 2014; Fornahl, Hassink, Klaerding, Mossig, & Schröder, 2012). Drawing on insights from the technological innovation systems literature, Binz, Truffer, and Coenen (2016) have suggested that path development processes are conditioned by the availability of four types of resources: knowledge, markets, finance and legitimacy. In the current paper, we seek to extent this line of reasoning in two ways. Firstly, we argue that the Binz et al. (2016) framework is insufficient for understanding path development processes in the bioeconomy because it ignores the role of natural resources. In general, evolutionary economic geography has paid little attention to the importance of natural resources. However, their availability may significantly influence path development processes in the bioeconomy as well as in other natural resource intensive industries. Secondly, we point to the inter-relation between the different forms of resources that condition path development processes, by outlining how natural resource availability influences the accessibility to other resources needed for bioeconomy path renewal. Empirically, we analyse path development in the forest industry in the South of Norway by examining on the process of turning a former pulp and paper mill near the city of Hønefoss into a production facility for multiple new wood-based products (i.e. a so-called biorefinery, see Bauer, Coenen, Hansen, McCormick, & Voytenko, 2016; Hansen & Coenen, 2016; OECD, 2009). The analysis is centred on a subsidiary, Treklyngen, of a large forest owner association, Viken Skog. The subsidiary was established in 2012 with the main goal of ensuring the establishment of new wood-based manufacturing at the site of the former pulp and paper mill. We used semi-structured interviews with central actors (Treklyngen, industry projects, politicians and stakeholder organisations), site visit, document analysis and media analysis as empirical data sources for conducting an event history analysis. Of central importance are events, which support or prevent access to resources (knowledge, markets, finance, legitimacy and natural resources). We also note contextual events of importance in the political, economic and technological spheres. Thus, a database of events have been constructed, which documents the development of the Treklyngen case from the origin in 2012 to the end of 2016. Preliminary findings are that the availability of natural resources was central to the path development process. As the traditional market for pulp and paper diminished, forest owners had to find new possibilities for value creation related to residues and pulp wood.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication date2017
    Publication statusPublished - 2017
    Event8th International Sustainability Transitions Conference - Gothenburg, Sweden
    Duration: 18 Jun 201721 Jun 2017


    Conference8th International Sustainability Transitions Conference
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