… is an atypical project
1998/02/01 Kaltzada, Pili - Elhuyar Zientziaren Komunikazioa Iturria: Elhuyar aldizkaria
Under the name of Cidetec, the new research center of the Miramón Technological Park began working towards May last year. Toribio Fernández, Professor of Electrochemistry of the Faculty of Chemistry of the UPV and main promoter of this project, tells us that his seed was sown about 10 years ago. In fact, the newly created center is closely related to the Ibaeta Electrochemistry laboratory, in which researchers have been trained and created on the initiative of people working in the center to meet the needs of electrochemical companies.
“The electrochemistry laboratory of the Faculty of Chemistry is a pioneer in providing services to companies in the sector. We have been working with companies for years, in addition to research work, to clarify the concerns that arise in daily activity. As the network of CAPV research centers was consolidated, many of the doctors who have trained in our laboratory went to work. Within this research network, however, there was no centre to meet the needs of the sector and, apart from the periodic questions, the daily activity could not be addressed.” Cidetec comes to fill that gap.
A sector of great tradition and experience
Electrochemistry is used in a multitude of processes: coatings of all types: galvanized, copper, zinc plated, batteries and accumulative energies, etc. Given the activity of companies based on them, it can be said that this is a sector of great tradition and economic importance. The Basque Country currently has 210 companies that use some branch of electrochemistry in their production process, of which 148 are the main technologies of electrochemistry. Except for exceptions, these companies are small factories that have been working for years. Toribio Fernández and Javier Rodriguez Parra, director of Cidetec, have made an X-ray of the sector:
“The industrial structure of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country is similar in all sectors, although in the field of electrochemistry some of its characteristics are particularly outstanding. Most businesses have a family structure and can be said to be small in size. They are traditional business structures that consider the main technology the experience accumulated over years. The companies that make up the sector know each other very well and until very recently had a professional experience as a main and almost unique tool of competition. To speak of technological transfer in the enterprises of this profile was very difficult; it was like introducing the sancta of each enterprise in the sanctorum. Today, however, the generation is changing in managerial positions and I believe that this change favors the development of our country. We now see young people with excellent training in positions of responsibility, with great academic experience and who are aware of the importance of collaboration.”
The branches of this reflection clearly affect the company and the university, and our interlocutors have told us that the same concern is in both. “Confidence is not achieved suddenly, in universities with much more tradition than we also have the same problem and we must bear in mind that our university is still very young, there are only 20 years working! I think we are facing an educational process in which the university and the company have to learn to work together, only in this way will we achieve the necessary level to advance with competitiveness. We believe that business R&D departments should be led by doctors who know the academic and work reality well. Basque companies need doctors.”
This is the model we have found at the Cidetec research centre, that is, young workers and excellent university formats: All who work at the Miramón headquarters are doctors of chemistry.
Combining technology and personal resources
The new Cidetec research center has a non-profit foundation structure. Given the danger of providing a standard business structure, a few years ago the foundation's path began to be studied. These researchers raised the need for an electrochemical research center and began talking to companies that could be aware of the need to launch the foundation. Despite its simplicity in paper, many years have matured the project. Finally, Iberdrola, Cegasa and Berrilan joined this project and are currently members of the Board of Cidetec. The institutions have also positively valued the creation of a new research structure and have collaborated from the beginning in the implementation of the process. In addition to the support of the Provincial Council of Gipuzkoa, Jabier Rodríguez Parra, director of Cidetec, tells us the importance of the approval of the Basque Government.
“Immediately after its creation, the Basque Government recognized Cidetec as a R&D business structure. It has explicitly recognized the Cidetec center for its technology transfer capacity and professionals related to last year. And we do not intend to limit ourselves to solving technology problems, but we want to equip our companies with the right technology, which means transferring not only material resources but also high-level personnel.”
5 researchers aged 30 to 32 are currently working at Cidetec. The number of workers will grow according to the needs of each project and, for example, 10 employees are expected this year. Jabier Rodríguez Parra told us that “the main objective is to integrate into the structure the doctors who will take care of each project.”
Right now, they have eight projects. Together with the company Cegasa, future batteries are being investigated. “We are studying lithium-ion batteries and designing ones that fit new needs. Lithium batteries have unique characteristics to store energy and we are studying the most suitable model. It is a very interesting project because it will have immediate use and will put a company here, Cegasa, at the head of technology”.
In addition, the coverage processes of artificial satellites are being studied, “an exciting challenge if we consider that the possibilities that this field can open are very great,” explains Rodríguez Parra.
CIDETEC aims to develop the technology used by Basque companies. However, this technology may not be localized, that is, it cannot be integrated by companies in the environment. In these cases, Cidetec itself would help create a company that uses this technology. “Our goal,” said Toribio Fernández, “is not to create new companies, but Cidetec will not give up development because it has not been used. Although the aim of the Foundation is to supply companies, our work is research and we must open all doors to it.”
The criterion for evaluating the progress of the center can also be to analyze whether new technological developments are being developed. “Through patents,” explained Jabierto, “we will be able to see if we are meeting the objectives of the center, since it is an objective criterion to analyze how much we have patented. In addition, through patents we want to support the work done by the researchers of the center, because we are generating wealth and development.”