Companies seek allies in academia |  Business

Companies seek allies in academia | Business

Union make force. And there is a recent example of this: the collaboration between universities and companies that in this pandemic allowed the development of a vaccine against covid-19 in record time. The health crisis put to the test the reaction and communication capacity between companies and research centers, whose ties were intertwined with the same goal: to save millions of lives. It will not be the last time that an exercise of this nature is seen. In the fight against climate change and the search for new energy solutions, the ideas and ingenuity of both sides once again converge. Because if something has become clear in the last three years, it is that research and the latest innovations are not only in the hands of educational centers, but also in private companies.

“Research is no longer done as before,” said Joana Frontela, head of the Cepsa Research Center, during a meeting organized by Retina. Now, says the expert, different profiles are involved in all the steps of the process so that they contribute their knowledge in each of the stages. “We integrated the legal part, the business part…because everyone has to play certain chips in the game. Research projects are no longer 100% focused on experiments. Now we have to include all the actors who are going to give their opinion and condition the project, ”Frontela argued during her participation in the event entitled Research and science to accelerate the energy transitionwhich had the collaboration of Cepsa.

This requires an even closer link with universities and public institutions because they are the ones that provide a large part of the profiles required by large companies. “We work with the academy, with the CSIC [Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas] and with other technology centers to develop some stages of the research project. They have a expertise for many years and in many disciplines”, said Frontela. “We establish collaboration contracts or direct theses, we receive students from the universities who provide us with this fundamental knowledge and the freshness of the young people who join our research projects,” said the representative of the Cepsa Research Center, who has become one of the key pieces for the future of the company.

“We are the company’s engine of innovation,” he said at the meeting, which was directed by Jaime García Cantero, director of Retina. His projects are focusing on the development of new energy technologies that will help society make the leap towards a more sustainable future. “We have projects to reduce CO₂, to produce e-fuels [combustibles verdes o sintéticos], hydrogen, biofuels and advanced fuels. These projects that we used to touch a bit on the side are well integrated and we dedicate 70% of the research effort because it is the path. The company is firmly committed”, added Frontela. The challenge is for all these innovations to reach the majority of society and thus give a strong boost to sustainability. “There are technologies that are already known, what you have to do is optimize them and make their price reasonable so that everyone has access to them,” Enrique Sastre, director of the CSIC’s Institute of Catalysis and Petrochemicals, commented at the same event. .

“We are at a crucial moment,” added Rosa María Martín Aranda, UNED Vice Chancellor for Research, Knowledge Transfer and Scientific Dissemination. Currently, not only do we have a closer relationship between academia and companies, but we are also in a context in which environmental challenges have great financial support thanks to Next Generation EU funds. “Investing more in science and preparing more scientists, that’s the most important thing,” she said. But the UNED expert stressed that resources must be earned. “They don’t come from heaven…, you have to work a lot.” In matters of professional training, said the university specialist, money has been a blessing for those people who, once their doctoral thesis is finished, want to continue with their research. “They can take a scholarship that allows them to go anywhere in the world to train and then return [a España]. That is the commitment of the European funds and it is marvelous because you have access to networks that are unattainable for a public university”, she asserted.

Financial support

The pandemic, Sastre added, has radically changed the conception of financing. “It has been shown that more funds had to be given for research in general. We scientists always complain that it is not enough. But it is true that there has been an increase in the budgets allocated to science”, argued the expert. This mana of resources comes at a key moment to close the gap with those areas where more is spent on science and development. Between 2014 and 2019, European companies grew on average 40% slower than their US peers and invested 40% less in research and development (R&D), according to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute.

Above all, it has been understood that investing in R&D is taking a risk, since some challenges arise whose results cannot be solved in a short term, Sastre assured. Taking the risk, however, is worth it. “Society would not be at the level it is today if we had not invested in research,” Frontela said. “Without innovation we are not going anywhere… This is a beginning,” said the Cepsa representative, who is now looking for new solutions to facilitate coexistence between fossil fuels and new technologies. “Right now we have several lines open to integrate other sources into the fuel production chain… That is perhaps our most tangible challenge,” she concluded.

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