Go back

Foresight refreshes ‘troubled’ report on future technologies

Foresight, the UK government’s future scenarios unit, has published an update of its 2010 report into technologies that will be important to the UK economy in the 2020s.

The original report was criticised for relying too heavily on news releases and consultancy reports rather than on primary scientific literature.

At the time Foresight defended the report, ‘Technology and Innovation Futures: UK Growth Opportunities for the 2020s’, saying it was one of the agency’s smaller-scale outputs.

For the 2012 update, Foresight conducted interviews and surveys among 15 academics and 26 people from industry on the 53 technologies identified by the original report, which was on inputs from 180 respondents.

“It was reassuring to find that in the main the technologies identified in 2010 are those that today are seen as strong candidates for growth over the next 20 years,” states the report. “This is hardly surprising but does reinforce the robustness of the approach applied two years ago.”

The update details how several technologies have become more important over the past two years. “Additive layer manufacturing (such as 3D printing) has moved from a largely research and development environment to being a core component of some industrial strategies,” it states. “This links to the major breakthroughs in developing new materials and tailored medicine.”

On hydrogen storage, the report says that although many challenges remain, “progress is being made and more is expected … from load-following electrolysers buffering energy generated by wind turbines to chemical storage in the form of metal hydrides and physical storage in metal organic frameworks.”

Other technologies highlighted include cell therapy and nuclear fission. On materials, the report says, “The UK could position itself to lead a 21st century manufacturing revolution, fuelled by new technologies such as those discussed here, with local ‘on-demand’ manufacturing using 3D printing technology and a move towards product plus service commercial models”, which it calls “servicisation”.