The socio-technical dynamics of chemical feedstock transitions : the case of renewable raw materials in the UK

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Title: The socio-technical dynamics of chemical feedstock transitions : the case of renewable raw materials in the UK
Authors: Bennett, Simon J.
Item Type: Thesis or dissertation
Abstract: Much public and private effort is being directed towards the development of more sustainable chemical feedstocks, yet the associated complexities of technological transitions and the technical, institutional and policy-related challenges they raise are often not wholly recognised. This thesis aims to develop an understanding of the key dynamics of technological change in the chemical industry, with respect to changes in feedstocks and the influence of the changing energy (and climate policy) landscape. It builds on, and contributes to, the ‘innovations’ literature that seeks to translate empirical research on past technological transitions into practical guidance for policy-makers. In particular, this thesis explores the relevance of the close relationship – or ‘co-evolution’ – between chemicals and liquid fuels production, which has not been analysed elsewhere. Transitions between technological systems involve evolutionary processes. The past both shapes the current system and influences future options and pathways. This thesis investigates the historical transition from coal-based to petrochemical feedstocks in the UK (1921-1967), applying a system dynamics approach to extract and elucidate the key interrelationships between technologies, policy and society. The findings are then used to inform a series of interviews with key organisations to gain insights into expectations for renewable raw materials (RRM) in the UK. The results provide a strong indication of the decision-making procedures of actors, and tensions between different industrial activities. They thus provide an empirical basis for developing foresight scenarios that might help inform the current debate about technological transitions, especially those to RRM. This thesis shows that the technological trajectory of the organic chemical industry has for many decades been influenced heavily by governmental attempts to steer technological change towards a changing set of policy priorities. This process has been accompanied by attempts of industrialists to steer policy priorities towards preferred technological trajectories. Parallels can be drawn with the current attempts of policymakers to achieve greater societal sustainability. Results indicate that the innovation system around RRM is already experiencing the socio-technical dynamics of regime disruption and competing designs.
Issue Date: Dec-2009
Date Awarded: Apr-2010
Supervisor: Pearson, Peter
Author: Bennett, Simon J.
Department: Centre for Environmental Policy
Publisher: Imperial College London
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Qualification Name: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Appears in Collections:Centre for Environmental Policy PhD theses

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