Launching the Competence Centres the Tánaiste said: "Today we are marking a departure from the traditional approach to R&D in favour of a collaborative system where companies that might ordinarily be competitors agree to share knowledge, risk and the rewards of pooling their research resources. The Competence Centres initiative offers Ireland the opportunity to excel in nine key sectors. These industry-led centres will convert the research undertaken into new products and services, leading to growth in export markets and jobs in Ireland".
There will be 180 SMEs and multinational companies involved in nine centres, five of which are now established. Those established cover Bioenergy & Biorefining, IT Innovation, Applied Nanotechnology, Composite Materials and Microelectronics. Four more - Manufacturing Productivity, Energy Efficiency, Financial Services and E-learning - are at different stages of completion. Each centre will be based in a University with support from partner Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to deliver on the research needs of the companies.
Enterprise Ireland has already ring-fenced €32 million in funding for the initial five centres and it anticipates investing a further €24 million over the next five years across the nine centres.
Frank Ryan, CEO Enterprise Ireland said: "These centres are a radical step in enabling companies in Ireland to achieve the kind of transformational change that is required to re-boot our economy. We have chosen an industry-led Competence Centre model in partnership with IDA Ireland, as it is regarded as the most sophisticated R&D vehicle that currently exists internationally. The centres will dramatically increase the amount of intellectual property available to Irish companies that they might otherwise never get access to".
Speaking about the benefits of participation to the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) companies that are involved, Barry O'Leary, CEO, IDA Ireland said, "Companies like Intel, Xilinx, Pfizer and Microsoft are engaged in these Competence Centres so they can access the collective expertise of Ireland's top Universities and work with Irish SMEs in partnership. This sort of collaboration is charting the direction of Ireland's Smart Economy and is a hugely welcome development amongst the FDI community here that rely so heavily on the generation of new products and services from research".
There are currently six Universities involved: NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, UCD, UL, TCD (CRANN) and UCC (Tyndall) and more HEIs are expected to join. One of the key benefits to the HEIs involved is that they get access to industry and the real problems that they are facing. This will assist the HEIs to align their research agendas with what industry is looking for.
The Competence Centres are expected to generate real impacts within five years including:
- Actively collaborating with a community of over 180 companies;
- Transferring at least 80 pieces of commercially viable intellectual property in the form of technology licences;
- Over 60 engineers and scientists directly employed in the centres working on industrially relevant research;
- A further 60-80 industry personnel working on centre research projects, maintaining the centre's market focus and driving a culture of innovation;
- Greater levels of R&D activity in Irish companies and overseas companies based in Ireland.
Summaries of the activities of each Competence Centre
Competence Centre for Bioenergy & Biorefining, based in NUI Galway, co-hosted by UL and UCD: Bioenergy is energy that is latent in plants and the Competence Centre for Bioenergy & Biorefining researchers will focus on ways to convert that energy into useful forms like heat, energy and fuels for transport. According to John Travers of AER Ltd., one of the Irish SMEs involved in this centre, "the value of international markets for bioenergy and biorefining is €40 billion and that's growing at 12% each year". There is an opportunity for Ireland to leverage its natural resources as according to Travers, we have some of the highest yields of grass in the world and we have prolific growth of algae and both of these are sustainable raw materials for producing the next generation of bioenergy and biorefining products.
Competence Centre for Applied Nanotechnology, based in Tyndall UCC, co-hosted by TCD CRANN: Nanotechnology is the science of very tiny things and the researchers in this centre are making molecules talk to molecules which has enabled us to make materials that they couldn't make in the past. According to Leonard Hobbs of Intel, one of the multinationals involved in this centre, this gives the companies involved an 'amazing ability to transform what the pharmaceutical, electronics and medical industries do because now we can manipulate the very tiniest building blocks that these industries use'.
The Competence Centre for Composite Materials, based in UL and co-hosted by UCD: Composite materials are lightweight plastics that are being used to replace heavy metals in things like aircraft, cars and boats, wind turbine blades and construction materials. The research team are going to help the companies involved to better understand the properties and complexities of these materials so that they can utilise them more effectively in creating new products. According to Conchúr O Bradaigh, joint MD of EireComposites, an Irish SME involved in this centre, "the advantage to companies of being involved in a Competence Centre is that they get access to industrially-focussed research at an earlier stage than they otherwise would have, this then gives these companies a competitive edge internationally".
Competence Centre for IT Innovation, based in NUI Maynooth: Information Technology is the most powerful resource that companies and Governments have available but there is a very poor track record in terms of being able to exploit the full potential and there have also been a lot of IT failures. According to Martin Curley, Director of IT Innovation at Intel, "what this centre will do is research and develop practical tools and approaches that can help companies and public sector organisations improve the predictability of their IT investments". The Competence Centre for IT Innovation will also be working towards establishing Ireland as a world-leader in green computing by researching ways to cut down on the amount of energy used in servers and other computing technology.
Competence Centre for Microelectronics, based in Tyndall, UCC and co-hosted by UL: The research in this centre will focus on circuit design of microchips for use in applications like mobile phones, televisions and high speed communications. According to James O'Riordan Chief Technology Officer, Silicon & Software Systems one of the Irish SMEs involved in this centre, the value for Ireland is in the design activity, estimating that there is currently about €0.5 billion euros of revenue resulting from the circuit designs done in Ireland. This centre will develop and license intellectual property in microelectronics to companies that can take this technology worldwide and build their businesses on it for the good of the Irish economy.
Work is ongoing to create the following Competence Centres:
Manufacturing Productivity: This centre will address the key challenges in developing Ireland as an environment for high value added manufacturing. Some of the companies involved are Pfizer, Intel, Bombardier and Seagate.
Energy Efficiency: Using new multi-disciplinary approaches, this centre will focus on making manufacturing in Ireland more competitive, cleaner and greener. Companies involved include Xerox, Analog Devices, SEI and Intel.
E-learning: The aim of the Competence Centre in E-learning is to create a world-class environment to combine learning and innovation for the benefit of Irish industry.
Financial Services: This centre will create a research environment where the challenges facing the financial services industry can be efficiently met positioning Ireland as an innovation leader in this global sector.