AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow

 An interview with Prof. Dr hab. Eng. Antoni Tajduś, Rector of AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow.
• AGH recently won a competition organised by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, in which several foreign universities participated. What did that competition, focusing on research projects, consist of?
• The European Union has decided to concentrate on three strands of scientific research carried out in the member states, which are of extreme significance for the whole continent: climate change, sustainable energy production (with an emphasis on cleaner energy production) and IT. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology in Budapest, when announcing a competition for large research projects in these fields, stipulated that only those consortia which involved up to six E.U. member states, what might be called an international institute, could participate in the competition. Such institutes must include so-called national Collocation Centres (CC), which incorporate research institutes and industrial plants. Such consortia were created and the Polish Government nominated AGH to work within a consortium, which also included research institutions from Germany (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology), Sweden (Stockholm University), the Netherlands (TU Eindhoven), France (Grenoble INP & Grenoble Ecole de Management) and Spain (Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, Barcelona). Our entry in the competition was in the field of energy production, a section in which there were seven other competitors, but luckily our research project was judged to be the best.
• What role does AGH play in this consortium?
• As the Germans want to work on dispersed energy sources, with the Swedish researchers interested in wind and solar energy, AGH, as the coordinator of the Polish Collocation Centre, focused upon the problem of developing technologies which would allow the hard bituminous coal, as well as brown coal, to be utilised more cleanly, because this is of great importance within Poland. When considering more detailed projects we would like to work with the other members of the Polish CC on, amongst other things, the application of high temperature nuclear reactors (HTR) in the processing of coal. Using nuclear energy, we want to heat coal to a temperature of almost 1,000 C in order to release the carbon compounds and hydrogen. We are also interested in the problem of increasing the efficiency of power plants by using higher temperatures and pressures in the combustion of fuels. This necessitates finding suitable materials and developing appropriate technologies, so my colleagues will have a great opportunity to show what can be done in this field.
• What possible benefits are there in being involved in a project such as this?
• The direct benefits can easily be calculated as the consortium will receive a minimum annual budget of 120 million Euros, not only from the E.U. but also from national sources and the private sector. The project will take several years to complete and the results will be verified after seven years. However, it is not only a question of money. If any of the participants discover new methods or make technological advances, which are implemented by private companies, the other members of the consortium will be able to take advantage of the knowledge without having to go into costly and time consuming licensing procedures. Additionally, the fact that large companies are involved in the project is also very important. Beside ourselves and a number of other universities and institutes, the Polish CC includes large companies involved in energy production, petrochemical plants and natural gas drilling and distribution. Among our foreign partners are such corporations as the Asea Brown Boveri Group Ltd. (ABB) and Philips.
• How will this project change your university?
• Fundamentally. We will, above all, have a secure and stable financial base on which to build a wide range of research projects for next few years. What we brought into the consortium were our research capabilities, but we will also construct and equip specialist laboratories. Our graduates, like those in Karlsruhe or Barcelona, having graduated with degrees linked to energy production, or other subjects connected with the work of the consortium, will receive diplomas with the EIT logo. For them it will make it much easier to further their careers in the best laboratories and companies in the world. What I myself consider the most significant is the fact that AGH will become involved in transnational scientific and economic cooperation.
• What has had to change at AGH in recent years to achieve success in such competitions?
• The Polish technical universities have changed considerably over the last few years and today some are approaching European standards. Our biggest problem in the past was the lack of money required to conduct research, something which changed after Poland joined the European Union. We quickly had to learn how to win E.U. grants, but today the money from this source is a considerable part of our budget. Our researchers work hard, but they earn more too, and the University can invest in many areas of research such as material engineering, informatics, telecommunications and physics, and additionally it is becoming a respected partner for the best scientific centres. For instance, 100 people from AGH have been involved in both the construction and the experiments carried out using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) under the auspices of the European Organization for Nuclear Research. We are the only Polish university that has signed a contract directly to cooperate with this institution. The budget of AGH has doubled in the last five years thanks to receiving European and national grants as well as to its cooperation with industry, and AGH is one of a very few Polish universities of which 50% of its budget is the result of research work. At present we are invited to participate with recognised international organisations, whereas we once applied in vain. Joking apart, I think that we are quite close to reaching the scientific ‘champions league’!