Radoslav Dragov (Senior Research Analyst, European Customer Insights & Analysis, European Blockchain)

The first year of the new decade has been eventful (to say the least), and the world of blockchain is no exception. While the COVID-19 crisis has led to a slowdown in blockchain spending growth, a number of exciting projects were announced in late spring and over the summer. This blog post is the first in a series that will be published quarterly to summarise the main blockchain news stories from Europe. We aim to not only report on breaking news but also to highlight the key trends that could define the future of blockchain in Europe.

No Summer Break for Blockchain Platform Updates

Despite the transition to working from home, major tech providers still made a series of announcements about their solutions. Oracle released the second generation of its Blockchain Platform Cloud Service, featuring stronger access controls for sharing confidential information, greater decentralisation capabilities for blockchain consortiums and better audibility. IBM released an updated version (2.5) of its Blockchain Platform, boosting security, usability, flexibility and development speed with support for Hyperledger Fabric 2.0 and new integrations with Red Hat technologies. The R3 Corda Enterprise platform was also updated over the summer (to version 4.5), with extensive enhancements to reduce latency, accelerate performance and deliver enterprise blockchain applications.

Blockchain Solutions to Combat COVID-19

Back in early May we published a blog post that detailed some of the main European projects at the time. Since then there have been even more projects aimed at alleviating the impact of COVID-19. The end of May saw the launch of the Swiss blockchain health certificate app Health n Go, which aims to mitigate the effects of COVID by identifying COVID-free individuals. Once complete, a COVID test result appears on the Health n Go app as a digitally encrypted health certificate, accessible to users.

The Open University in the UK released a similar prototype, aimed at enabling health workers and others to produce a tamper-proof immunity passport so they can return to work. At roughly the same time, Norwegian assurance firm DNV GL released MyCare, a blockchain-based infection risk management solution that stores evidence of companies’ effective COVID policies. The solution aims to tackle the difficulties of making workplaces safe environments that conform to COVID regulations.

Supply Chain Solutions Remain a Bright Spot

Even during the darkest days of COVID there was another shining light in the blockchain industry besides virus tracing solutions — the application of the technology in supply chain management.

Supply chain disruptions have highlighted the need for a more transparent and effortless exchange of data between trading partners. French car maker Groupe Renault developed the XCEED (eXtended Compliance End-to-End Distributed) blockchain project to certify the compliance of all vehicle components, from design to production.

In another new project that aims to reduce friction between trading partners, Wipro and Uniper have collaborated to implement a blockchain-based small-scale liquefied natural gas (ssLNG) trading/fulfilment platform. The goal is to simplify commodity flow management in a market characterised by extensive manual and paper-based transactions and high operational costs.

Food provenance was one of the first main blockchain applications in the supply chain, and since then we’ve had a steady stream of new projects and partnerships. The need for transparent track and trace of food products led to the formation of the Umbria Food Cluster consortium in Italy, using IBM Food Trust. The consortium includes several major food companies that use local raw materials from the fertile Umbria region.

In a bid to drive higher levels of transparency and accountability in the EU’s cannabidiol (CBD) industry, the Cannabinoid Association of the Netherlands (CAN), a consortium of Dutch CBD producers, has launched CanCheck.org, a free online CBD search tool that enables consumers to trace CBD products from seed to shelf, with every link along the supply chain verified by blockchain.

Transparent supply chains can also help companies deliver on their commitments to sustainability. UK-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever introduced blockchain transparency and traceability into its supply chain processes and hopes to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023.

Sustainability is an area where blockchain has seen growing application, and we believe this trend will continue unabated. Dutch blockchain start-up Circularise, for instance, recently announced a €1.5 million ($1.8 million) funding through the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. The start-up tracks plastics from the initial resin to the end product, including any additives along the way. The funding shows that the EU is ready to invest in emerging technologies to enable real growth in the circular economy.

European Commission and Upcoming Regulation

The Commission affirmed its commitment to blockchain by publishing a “pre-announcement” of a blockchain tender for solutions that facilitate international trade. The Commission wants to identify the key priority areas for blockchain applications and assess the relevance and ease of implementation of any solution. Part of the work is likely to involve delivering prototypes.

A much bigger announcement came recently when the Commission, in collaboration with the 30-country European Blockchain Partnership (EBP) alliance, said it plans to launch a pan-European blockchain regulatory sandbox by 2022. The sandbox — live testing of new products or services in a controlled regulatory environment for which regulators may permit some regulatory relaxations — will be used to test use cases for blockchain and digital assets. It will also test use cases such as data portability, smart contracts and digital identity in sectors such as health, environment, mobility and energy.

Overall, while COVID has had a negative impact on European blockchain spending, there are still a number of bright spots such as supply chain, trade finance and sustainability where the pandemic might actually speed up blockchain adoption. The private sector continues to innovate with blockchain and it’s highly encouraging to see supranational institutions like the European Commission continue to support the technology.

Stay in Touch

For more on IDC’s European blockchain research, contact Radoslav Dragov (rdragov@idc.com) or Carla La Croce (clacroce@idc.com), or click here.

For more on IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Blockchain Spending Guide — which forecasts blockchain spending across 32 countries, 19 industries, 27 use cases and 6 technologies — click here.

For more on COVID-19 and how it is affecting the European technology landscape, click here.

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