Innovations coming from nuclear industry
Our Cluster deals not only with technologies for nuclear industry, but also with developments in other economic sectors. The nuclear energy is an industry driver, but it has very stringent requirements for suppliers (including small and medium business), therefore the transfer of services developed by the nuclear technology to other sectors is always logical and effective. It should be noted that the Development Program of the State Corporation Rosatom highlights diversification as one of the key priorities. By starting work with radiation technologies, we are gradually expanding the playground, because the demand for new industrial solutions is very high. Most projects are related to laser and plasma technologies, high temperatures and pressures, i.e. the areas where the nuclear energy excels other industries.
Currently, the Cluster focuses on three major areas: nuclear and radiation technologies; advanced manufacturing technologies, which include solutions for development, production and control of materials; instrumentation and information processing technologies, in particular, control systems, sensors, industrial systems for supporting decision-making, etc. Our Cluster’s target markets are not only engineering, chemical industry and microelectronics, but also, for example, the medical sector, where we fruitfully cooperate with colleagues from the Biomed cluster.
New solutions are welcome in different areas: equipment, technologies, materials, software, and various combinations thereof. In my view, the market is mostly interested in new technological solutions. A good example displayed on our exhibition stand is the Anisoprint project, which develops technologies and materials for 3D printing of composite products for various industrial purposes.
The Cluster is actively developing additive technologies. What nuclear energy innovations are used in this area?
Additive technologies is a very good example of applying technologies and approaches that are typical for the nuclear industry. What is important in the contemporary 3D printing? Firstly, it is important to create new industrially designed tools. As Professor Alexey Borovkov from St. Petersburg State Polytechnic University noted, the modern industrial designing has gone beyond the chief designer’s intuition. However, the nuclear industry best fits for optimization methods in the design and modeling. Secondly, additive technologies require new materials, the properties of which meet very high requirements, and the most advanced material-modeling tools are created in the nuclear industry or for her. Thirdly, the required tools are lasers or electron guns that are successfully developed by the nuclear industry. Finally, additive technologies require high-precision non-destructive control. What other industrial facilities can compare to nuclear power plants in the thoroughness of control and the variety of used methods?
This example shows that the nuclear industry competence is interesting for different areas, so we are not trying to regulate the project scopes strictly in our Cluster. For us, the most important outcome should be effective businesses created via interaction with the business community using these solutions.
Does the Cluster deal with State Corporation Rosatom?
The Skolkovo Fundation and Rosatom signed a cooperation agreement, and we regularly inform the state corporation on the solutions of our startups. Our Cluster and other clusters of the Fundation participate in trade fairs. In particular, more than a dozen Skolkovo projects were displayed at the international forum of nuclear industry suppliers ATOMEX held in October, this year. Skolkovo is also planned to have a Rosatom center and the space has already been reserved. It would be interesting to develop cooperation in scientific and technical sphere too. We are interested in spinoffs of institutions and enterprises of the state corporation, as in participants of the Skolkovo. Therefore, Rosatom is a major potential customer, and we hope that technological solutions of our start-ups, which meet the objectives and requirements of the nuclear industry, will be in high demand there, too. And several products have already become the objects of intense negotiations.
What is the infrastructure of the Cluster? What benefits are provided to its participants?
The participants of all clusters have equal rights to use the common Skolkovo infrastructure. Next year, it is planned to complete and launch the Technopark, which will be equipped with laboratories, including facilities for developing solutions in chemistry, laser radiation, instrumentation. To date, the Technopark has accredited about 30 collective centers, which provide the Foundation's participants with services at discounted prices.
The Skolkovo Resident status is given for 10 years, at most, and projects may receive support both at initial research stages, and at experimental design stages. We are happy to support engineering projects, i.e. companies that can provide integrated turnkey solutions. In addition to tax incentives, we have introduced a system of grants to cover the costs of prototyping, testing and patenting, because business plans frequently do not include funding for these activities. The incentives continue when production starts, but they are available only for the products developed in Skolkovo. When revenues reach 1 billion rubles and profits generate 300 million rubles, the company is no longer subject to preferential taxation.
Do you cooperate with research centers and how effective is the cooperation?
Research centers are interesting for us from several viewpoints. The first is about initiating new business projects based on scientific solutions, the second is attraction of highly qualified specialists in start-up technology companies. Up to 40% of our startups in the Cluster have their roots in research institutes and universities. The second collaboration area is about forecasting the future development of innovations and defining priorities. With the help of scientists, we are trying to predict a more distant future than tomorrow and to determine what technologies will be demanded by the market. It is important because the creation of new technologies, materials and equipment, even with today's manufacturing capacity, requires at least three to five years.
In Russia our most important partners are the Ural Federal University (Ekaterinburg), Institute of High Current Electronics SB RAS (Tomsk), Institute of Nuclear Physics SB RAS (Novosibirsk), Institute of Applied Physics RAS (Nizhny Novgorod), St. Petersburg Polytechnic University, and the cooperation with Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (Dubna) is also established.
Foreign scientific centers are generally less interested in joint work. However, cooperation is quite active with individual scientists and research groups, primarily, among our former compatriots. For example, Vladimir Shalayev, a distinguished specialist in the field of nano-optics and metamaterials, working in Purdue University (USA), became a co-founder and chief scientific consultant for the company Photonic Nano-Meta Technologies (FNMT), which is developing nanoscale single-photon sources for optical and quantum computers. Tekhnoscan-Lab has engaged several colleagues from Aston University (UK) in the creation of laser systems. Professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has established on the basis of the developed control algorithms startups "Educational robotics" and "Computer robotics". Development of the first of them was nominated by the organizing committee of the ICRA 2015 in the 7 best projects of 2015. And the second company is now part of the promising engineering consortium with the leaders of the Russian industry, wich develop a flexible manufacturing cell. Russia is attractive enough for organizing startups, because many things can be done faster and cheaper with the Russian developers. Besides, the competition level is lower, so the scientist can devote more time to research. In addition to that, Skolkovo offers very good conditions in terms of tax benefits and exciting opportunities for marketing products.
In addition to the joint participation in projects of the Cluster, research centers targeted by our companies that produce equipment and materials for scientific research. We can offer high-class solutions to Russian and foreign companies. On the one hand, this ensures the promotion of our solutions in the market. On the other hand, the best researchers and engineers are involved in their improvement. An example of such a project is Superox-Innovations, which has developed and produces a tape of second-generation high-temperature superconductors. Superconductors are more and more widely used in scientific research installations. In particular, the large hadron Collider was built with the use of superconducting magnets. The tape produced by Superox-Innovations can be used in electric current limiters and in magnets, so we expect it to be highly demanded in the research sector.
Speaking about the affiliate research centers, you didn't mention the Moscow centers...
We have a very good relationship with the Institute of Spectroscopy in Troitsk, where was created one of the most promising startups of the cluster, EUV-labs. We are working with the Institute of General Physics RAS, Institute of Physics RAS, and Kurchatov Institute, which owns a share in the start-up called Nuclear Medicine Development Center, but mostly it is a pointed cooperation. Moscow offers higher salaries and it is easier to get funding, so institutions do not want their leading experts to devote too much time to business development. Whereas, without abandoning science, it is very difficult to do business.
How do you organize the technology development forecasting?
We try to combine individual negotiations and collective discussions, for example, in the form of roundtables devoted to some major topics. During the selection of competitions, we communicate with universities and research centers, as well as key industry partners. The innovation priorities of all clusters are endorsed by the Advisory Scientific Council headed by Zhores Alferov and Roger Kornberg.
How do you assess the role of nanotechnologies in the implementation of the Cluster projects?
Nanotechnology is one of the key areas in creating new materials. Moreover, a big part of technological processes is managed at a nanoscale. I note that we are actively cooperating with the Rosnano Fund for Infrastructure and Educational Programs, and many participants of this Fund have received the Skolkovo resident status.