The right fuel for Russian research

January 29, 2004

Brussels, 28 Jan 2004

Amid little fanfare but great expectations, Russia has launched its first-ever commercially oriented research and development centre. A priority at the institute-cum-incubator will be research into fuel and oil technologies.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia and the Newly Independent States (NIS) have shown great resolve in upgrading and developing their centres of scientific learning and development. A strong sign of this progress is the formal unveiling this month of the Yukos Research and Development Centre in Moscow, with backing from the Yukos Oil Corporation.

Touting itself as the "first corporate research institute in Russia that meets the world's top standards", the centre paves the way for active and fruitful co-operation between the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) and major corporations in the country. Built in record time, the British-designed research centre's offices, laboratory and classrooms cover around 10 000 m2 and will staff up to 200 people.

The Yukos centre has no intention of conducting science for science's sake, asserts its Director-General Mikhail Rogachev. It will provide expert R&D support for corporations in various sectors. In addition, it plans to boost science education by organising training for research personnel and opening its doors to young scientists and post-graduates, who will also receive guidance on the commercial aspects of science, explains Rogachev.

Know your product

One of Yukos' main priorities will be research into oil and gas production technologies, with an emphasis on European-level standards and practices. Among the topics up for investigation are catalyser technologies, ways to improve refinement and processing operations, fuel cells, and an ambitious modernisation programme.

New discoveries in fuel cell technologies would be of special interest to the European Union, as it is heavily involved in research aimed at improving energy efficiency and storage capacity in, for instance, households and transport. Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin has put his full weight behind renewable energy initiatives.

In particular, he believes appropriate hydrogen infrastructure must be developed. "This will include establishment of hydrogen production and storage facilities, as well as hydrogen distribution and delivery systems," he said. To this end, the European Commission announced, late last year, that it is looking for participants to take part in its hydrogen and fuel cell technology platform, part of its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for Research.

With the signing of a science and technology co-operation agreement between the EU and Russia in November 2002, this means researchers from the NIS can participate in FP6 and initiatives such as the platform. The initial Advisory Council has already been appointed – and working groups are being put together following the response to the 2003 call – but input is still needed for such deliverables as the Strategic Research Agenda and Deployment Strategy.

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