Close to a breakthrough?

Rafael Laguna de la Vera believes one disruptive innovation could solve many of the world’s problems. Here he reveals which one it is.

Rafael Laguna de la Vera
Rafael Laguna de la Vera SPRIND GmbH

Rafael Laguna de la Vera is founding director of the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation. We presented four questions to the former startup founder and technology entrepreneur.

Mr Laguna de la Vera, you aim to support disruptive innovations with the Federal Agency. Do you already have initial candidates?
We began on 1 January 2020 and have already received over 800 project submissions. According to our validation process, 60 proposals have the potential to become disruptive innovations, and six projects are already at the funding stage. One focus is on the environment and energy. This includes, for example, the removal of microplastics from bodies of water with the aid of small air bubbles or electricity generation using high-altitude wind turbines, which we hope will be able to achieve an energy price of less than three cents per kilowatt hour.

Nuclear fusion could be one solution. We know how fusion works. Whether we fully develop it is only a question of effort.

Rafael Laguna de la Vera

These sound like great innovations, but what makes them stand out as disruptive innovations?
Disruptive innovations are innovations that permanently change our lives for the better. We don’t need any more pseudo-innovations. Shopping, ordering taxis and going on vacation were all possible before Amazon, Uber and Airbnb. We need disruptive innovations that make the lives of the largest possible number of people better in the greatest possible way. That’s the case with high-altitude wind turbines and a new kind of sewage treatment plant.

How does Germany compare internationally in this respect, historically and currently, from book printing to Biontech, as it were?
Most recently, the disruptive innovations that we have not only invented but also developed in Germany have come from the automotive and chemical sectors. But Biontech is incredible, of course, because the company did not only develop a new kind of mRNA vaccine; it also marketed it and scaled up production. It has now grown into a business group worth billions. Unfortunately, however, that’s an exception and not the rule. And that’s what we want to change.

If you were granted one disruptive innovation what would it be?
We could solve 50% of the world’s problems if we had a form of energy production so cheap that it wouldn’t even be worth billing for. And that really isn’t so absurd because we’re swimming in an ocean of energy. It’s just that we haven’t yet succeeded in converting it into a transportable and storable form in the necessary quantities. Nuclear fusion could be one solution. We know how fusion works. Whether we fully develop it is only a question of effort and determination. We are currently seeing an acceleration in development here as a result of startups and new technologies.

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