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The Green Challenge

Solar technologies, electric cars, biotech and green high tech for a cleaner and better environment – only a few months ago these words were anything but mainstream. This may soon change. Take one program of the new US administration: it aims at putting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on Americanroads by 2015. Barack Obama promised 4 billion dollars in tax credits to the US car industry to revamp their plants to produce such vehicles. When visiting California in March he announced a further 2.4 billion dollars to develop batteries and all-electric cars.

The European Union doesn’t want to lag behind. Janez Potočnik, the EU commissioner responsible for science and research, explained the Commission's ambitious program in an interview for EurActiv in early April. The EU, he said, will invest over 7 billion Euros in greentech: 1.2 billion will be dedicated to R&D for "Factories of the Future,”and there will be another billion for R&D for an "Energy-efficient Buildings" initiative. Yet most of the money – 5 billion Euros – will go for a "Green Cars" initiative.

These programs could have a profound impact. The two most developed economies in the world, the EU and US, count on the development of a green car leading to a new technological revolution, one capable of revitalizing the economy. These ambitious programs require public-private partnership. Their successful implementation calls for unprecedented cooperation between governments,companies and research institutions – again, an important change. That's like a “go to the moon” goal, commented Nancy Gioia, Ford’s director of hybrid vehicle programs.




Is Slovenia prepared for this immense challenge? Moreover, is this game reserved for the big guys with not much room left for small countries? Some of the best and most entrepreneurial companies in Slovenia are among the global leaders in their niches when it comes to green tech. Ultra light aircraft producer Pipistrel has a pioneering role in making fully electric powered aircraft and is developing another world first, a hydrogen-powered small plane.

Yacht designer and producerSeaway is designing solar sailboats and powerboats for the future (see interview with company's founder Japec Jakopin in this issue). While both companies are small niche players, with R&D budgets dwarfed by the billions available to multinationals, yet in true entrepreneurial spirit these companies show that you can play the green tech game no matter how small you are. (Actually despite its relatively small size Seaway is the world’s leading yacht designer.)

 A further example: Elaphe. This small, visionary research company is developing an original solution for hybrid or electric cars: an in-wheel motor. Elaphe cooperates closely with Slovenia's leading science lab, the Institute JožefŠtefan, as well as with the University of Ljubljana and Iskra Avtoelektrika, an established Slovenian maker of electric drives and mechanotronic automotive components with production facilities all over the globe. Iskra Avtoelektrika is already active in the area of electric and hybrid drive systems.




The production of electric and mechanotronic components is an important segment ofSlovenia’s strong automotive industry. This fact should create a good starting point for Slovenia's position in the green tech car game. The question remains,however, if it’s enough. As both the US and EU programs clearly show, the interplay between the state, academia and the private sector is going to be more and more the name of the game. As the best cases of Slovenian green techshow, their success is still bases almost entirely on a few strong individuals– top entrepreneurs like Ivo Boscarol from Pipistrel or Andrej Detela, Elaphe'smain researcher – a physicist, world traveler and unorthodox thinker. Or in the case of another Slovenian leader in green tech, the metal constructions producer Trimo, on the leadership of its general manager Tatjana Fink. The truly fertile cooperation between research institutions, the government and companies, remains a challenge. But then big moves are often easier to make insmall environments. Barack Obama's wish is to replace the entire White House fleet of cars with plug-in hybrids in a year. It's a complex project involving anumber of issues, not least being security issues; those armored limousines weigh a lot. This is not such a big deal for the office of Slovenian president Danilo Türk – and he already cruises the green hills of Slovenia in an environmentally friendly Toyota Prius.

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