Case Study: CleanTechNRW DCTI: A German Cluster

CleanTechNRW DCTI from DE

CleanTechNRW was founded in 2010 with the goal to further advances in ‘clean technologies’ in the four industrial interfaces of energy, steel, chemistry and biotechnology in the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Cluster Activities: Identification, development, promotion and implementation of research and development projects through close networking and clear and recognisable leadership.

Size: About 80 companies and research centres.

Interests in Japan: Technology exchange (climate protection) and search for partners for collaboration.

CleanTech" stands for the commitment towards new and innovative methods, products and services, which increase both output and efficiency, conserve natural resources and reduce cost and energy consumption at the same time and in a sustainable manner. Thereby, questions regarding the right technologies and competences stand equally in the foreground as does the question concerning the best path towards a "Low Carbon Society. 


CleanTechNRW develops climate protection technologies that could potentially have a significant impact on climate change. These technologies must also be applied in Japan in order to achieve global change, and to support the Japanese energy system transition (in order to break its dependency on nuclear energy). Moreover, Japanese companies are ahead in various technological fields and are therefore potential partners for collaboration.

STEPS TAKEN – 2012 EU-Japan Cluster Support Mission

Deutsches CleanTech Institut (DCTI) is since 2010 a partner of the CleanTechNRW cluster, and has been supporting its management for some events such as the 2012 EU-Japan Cluster match-making mission, where the cluster was represented by DCTI’s CEO Philipp Wolff. During the mission, Mr Wolff met numerous Japanese cluster representatives and company executives, in order to explore possibilities for future cooperation. Unfortunately, due to CleanTechNRW’s subsequent thorough reorganisation, the cluster’s international activities were largely put on hold, including its efforts to enter the Japanese market.


A big challenge for the clean technology sector is to determine its exact definition and scope ( "CleanTech" involves different industrial branches and different technologies, which makes it very difficult to find out who is in the "CleanTech" sector and who isn’t. The "CleanTech" sector in Germany, for instance, includes six lead markets (environmentally-friendly energy and energy storage, solid waste management, sustainable water management, sustainable mobility, resource efficiency, energy efficiency). The 2012 EU Cluster Support Mission, which focussed on the "CleanTech" sector, however, also included representatives from the Scandinavian paper industry, the Danish renewable energy sector, etc. According to Mr Wolff, when you work with the "CleanTech" industry, it is imperative to focus on the various relevant topics, such as renewable energy, storage, resources, mobility, etc. Only then you can find business contacts with whom actual cooperation is possible.

In fact, DCTI has been working, among others, for some federal ministries of the German government to create a definition for the "CleanTech" industry, for the past five years. This also involved research on the entities that are participating in "CleanTech", and which technologies belong to the sector.

“Cleantech involves energy and storage, resources, mobility, water, efficiency, and so on; but its scope is too wide to say: ‘Ok, let’s meet and talk about Cleantech.’” Philipp Wolff.

Another specific issue for CleanTechNRW is the fact that its core partners are multinational companies such as Bayer AG, ThyssenKrupp or RWE. These global players, which are also responsible for the management board of the cluster itself, do business with Japan independently from the cluster, which to a certain extent limits the cluster’s own international ambitions.


Because of the current (as of September 2014) limited activity of the CleanTechNRW cluster, there has been no real engagement to do business with Japan. In 2015, the cluster should be reorganised and there might be room again to focus on international business, where Japan could be a focus region.

During the 2012 mission, Philipp Wolff also learned that there are certain similarities in the business cultures of Japan and Germany, and some interesting shared interests in high-tech industries. Depending on the political framework, the technological evolution and forthcoming innovations, DCTI might pursue its own presence on the Japanese market in the coming years. This organisation is continuously pursuing new partnerships with other countries, for example the US for its photovoltaic industry, Switzerland for geothermal topics, and Asia for storage solutions.

“The cleantech industry today already includes over 60 different (clean) technologies, which clearly shows the importance of finding a common definition and the need to focus on specific topics during match-making missions and bringing businesses together.” Philipp Wolff.

Furthermore, in its mission to redefine the "CleanTech" sector, DCTI is already considering further steps. After the EU-Japan cluster support mission, Philipp Wolff wrote to the EU and pointed out the need to objectively define "CleanTech", determine which entities belong to it, and bring them together. The next definition, if accepted by the German authorities, will probably be finished in the first half of 2015. After this goal has been reached, DCTI plans to share its view with the EU authorities and press for a common definition. 

Interview made with Philipp Wolff