20 million euro for NEW energy research centre

This post was written by Richard Tol

The government will establish the European Energy Research Centre at the Tyndall National Institute, and provide initial support of 20 million euro. See here.

Tyndall has no prior experience with energy research, and I must admit that I was unaware of its existence until the 20 million euro rumour emerged a few months ago. Wikipedia has an interesting entry. Then again, sometimes it is good to start with a clean slate.

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35 Responses to “20 million euro for NEW energy research centre”

  1. Ribbit Says:

    According to their website, their objective is to become a focal point of ICT research.

    But perhaps the clue to this funding boost for a Cork-based institute lies more in this sentence in the RTE report: “The money will come from Batt O’Keeffe’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation…”

    Hmmm, Batt O’Keeffe…now what part of the country was he from again?

  2. Richard Tol Says:

    @Ribbit
    In fairness to O’Keeffe, this decision was made before he took over DETI.

  3. Joseph Says:

    @Ribbit - “Hmmm, Batt O’Keeffe…now what part of the country was he from again?”

    Not sure if it’s been on yet (never get time to watch the telly these days) but I believe there’s a Primetime coming up that’s going to show clear links between ministers, funding and where their constituency is! Keep your eyes peeled.

  4. Steve Flinter Says:

    Tyndall National Institute has been around for many years, but only recently (2005) rebranded itself as Tyndall. Previously it was known as the NMRC - the National Microelectronics Research Centre.

  5. Diarmuid Says:

    @Joseph there is a wealth of research for a long time on that particularly issue using the Lottery money and the Minister for Sport

  6. Al Says:

    One thing that I would like to point out is that government has established a narrative that all the media have bought, particularly this hierarchy of jobs created.

    To make a statment that many of the X jobs will be at PHD level, is based upon several assumptions:

    1- that PHD created jobs will have a spill over with the creation of ‘lower’ jobs to faciliate the initial PHD job. Ignoring the allusions of a medieval knight with his attendants, one can accept that there may be spill over job creation, but is it a certainty?
    I can imagine the possibilty of government funded enterprises pushing PHD’ers into unfurnished offices and telling them to get busy doing something.
    2- Does this iteration of PHD jobs also justify the costs in our third level education. If we are creating X PHD’s then there has to be jobs for them. If Govt is then creating the jobs…..
    3- Isnt there also the danger of identifying homogenous groups of qualification levels? These beasts of burden that CEO’s can tell each other their head count?

  7. Richard Tol Says:

    @Al
    You can interpret the 50 jobs for PhDs in two ways.

    If you would try and hire 50 people with a relevant PhD today, chances are that 49 of them would come from abroad. Energy research in Ireland has expanded so fast that there is full employment in this segment of the labour market. You would be hard-pressed to find 50 qualified people worldwide as energy is booming everywhere. An unknown institute in Cork would not attract the 50 best PhDs. Because it is all immigrant labour, employment and labour force would grow together so that unemployment stays as it is.

    If you would try and hire 50 PhDs over a number of years, chances are that a fraction of them would be alumni of our current investment in fourth level education. We are subsidising their education, and we will subsidise their employment.

    Whatever way you turn this, it should not be judged on its merits as a labour market policy.

  8. MayoDub Says:

    Actually I think Tyndall in its previous existence, NMRC (National Microelectronics Research Centre) did engage in some research on Photovoltaic systems back in the early 1990s. Google terms, “Wrixon”, “Solar” , “Photovoltaic”, “McCarthy”.

    It wouldn’t have been the central focus of its research activities and I was also a bit surprised by the association of that centre with green energy research when I heard the report this morning.

    I was a postgrad there a long time ago in a former part of my earlier career.
    However, their main expertise is in nanotechnology, semiconductors, optoelectronics and biosensors. NMRC became Tyndall around 2005 when there was a major reorganization and refocus of its activities and a lot of new blood was brought in as its charter was changed (and expanded).

    There have been quite a few spin off companies created out of NMRC/Tyndall.

    In the old days it had a fairly well known association with Farran Technologies - of which, former NMRC director Prof G Wrixon was also a director.
    Nualight, Firecomms, Eblana Photonics, are some of the Cork based optoelectronic R&D/Production companies which have emerged from that stable.

  9. toby Says:

    The Tyndall Institute used to be the National Microelectronics Research Centre. It has Europe-wide recognition and a successful track record for reaearch into new silicon and opto-electronic devices.

    It has an associated cluster of small campus companies & start-ups. Nothing massive, I think they mainly service the Tyndall itself.

    I hae not read the story in detail. I presume they will research the use of new materials in solar energy devices & battery materials.

    On balance, and before I read the detail, I think this is a good move to translate national skills in electronics into an energy industry.

    As Al says, there is a risk of welfare for PhDs. On the other hand it might spark a home-grown energy industry, or attract other companies to our shores. The Tyndall Director (aagh, memory fail!) is ex-Bell Labs - if he can infuse that spirit, then it might pay off.

  10. Drumroe Says:

    I would like to know who knows who to get 20 million Euros?

  11. Al Says:

    “Whatever way you turn this, it should not be judged on its merits as a labour market policy.”

    But behind it all, isnt that what it is supposed to be?
    Or is it Science for Science’s sake?

  12. Sporthog Says:

    @ Richard Tol,

    Very interesting reading. 20M is a drop in the ocean when it comes to spending on new technologies, research etc.

    I did a search on the WWW and I came across this site.

    http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org

    It was very interesting indeed. They had a link to a German report about the costs of renewable energy. Link here,

    http://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/germany/Germany_Study_-_FINAL.pdf

    If the report is accurate and factual then it is truly shocking. Bigger energy bills ahoy for certain.

    But if research is carried with the aim of improving the efficiency of renewable renewable sources then it will be money strategically invested and if successful should have big dividends.

    Just one example, improving the efficiency of PV solar arrays, overcoming production costs, cheaper manufacturing cost by using different crystals of silicon. All fascinating and vitally important work.

    I would see this as encouraging, but 20M will not go very far.

  13. Richard Tol Says:

    A Scopus search on “National Microelectronics Research Centre” reveals 153 publications (total), with 51 citations max.

    “Tyndall National Institute” returns 1034 papers, with 90 citations max. This is some 200 papers per year. It is not clear how many researchers are at Tyndall, but there are over 400 employees and over 100 PhD students.

    This is not excellence at the international scale.

  14. Al Says:

    Richard

    Is that fair?

    Publications and citation do commodify research and shapes its formation into a product consumable to the academic publications and citations market place.

    We’ll have the excellence we can afford!

  15. The Alchemist Says:

    If the figures reported in the Irish Times are correct, each of the 50 jobs sponsored by the government is costing €400K. Minister Ryan was quick to unfurl the usual flannel about the ’smart economy’.

    It is precisely this level of public sector salary that is harming domestic SME growth. For the sake of argument, imagine a private sector employee with an ‘idea’. In the initial stages, he (or she) might consider the county enterprise boards (CEBs). The ‘innovator’ finds out that he needs to come up with close to 50% of any costs - OK, capitalizing of some of his time is allowed. He also discovers that there are 35 CEBs (but only 26 counties), and that they occupy nice offices, with plenty of secretarial support. After the vetting, the presentations to groups including local business leaders - includes auctioneers and solicitors - if he gets grant, it will be tiny. If he wants to employ anyone, the employment grant is around €7,500 per person and again, he has to stump up the rest. The minimum wage annual salary is around €17,500 for a 40 hour week. Eventually, the company may graduate to receiving elevated treatment by Enterprise Ireland, if the founders haven’t been ground down by bureaucracy and the unequal buying power of the public purse in the skilled labour market.

    Of course in modern smart economy Ireland, no one in political or even official economic circles wants to scrutinize this matter too closely. No better to shunt money in huge quantities towards the multinationals, as if their bread is not sufficiently well-buttered with financial incentives.

    The net consequence is that anyone in the private sector faces enormous hurdles getting a micro enterprise off the ground. Whereas a person in the risk averse world of academia has the ground well and comfortably tilled. Yet, the historical role of SMEs in generating growth and lifting economies out of recession suggests there is a good case for inverting the pot. Give the per job €400k to private sector start-ups and see how they prosper. Can’t be any worse than current proposals.

  16. Richard Tol Says:

    @Al
    It is public money, so it is fair to ask what we get in return. Some researchers choose to publish a lot of useful but not ground-breaking work, while other researchers opt for a few hard-hitting papers. The people at Tyndall have neither.

    I searched for patents and found 2.

  17. Al Says:

    @ Richard
    Fair in the sense, that publications and citations do not offer the whole picture.
    But I know little of this centre or its predecessor to offer examples of
    other considerations that may be incorporated into a judgement.

  18. DavidA Says:

    Why aren’t we investing in Nuclear Energy research. This is most likely where the future of energy lies not in enormous PV carpets.

  19. Holbrook Fields Says:

    I don’t see any consideration above of the announcement that United Technologies Corporation (UTC) have also invested €15m at the Tyndall Centre to develop its European Research Base that will employ 37 people. Would UTC have invested this money if the government hadn’t committed €20m? And what chance is there that this initial investment from UTC might grow in the future or attract other companies to invest in the locale? Does anybody know of any research that has examined the effectiveness of this type of investment in research that employs PhD students?

  20. Peadar Coleman Says:

    @ Richard Tol / Steve Flinter / MayDub / Toby

    The Tyndall website says it “was created in 2004 at the initiative of the Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment and University College Cork (UCC)”.
    While I’m glad that Tyndall is being remembered in the naming, a few years ago a distinguished mathematician told me that UCG is just as entitled as UCC to call an institute after Tyndall - both colleges refused to give Tyndall a job when he was alive!

  21. Michael Hennigan - Finfacts Says:

    The involvement of United Technologies is a bit of window-dressing.
    75-80% of the total funding will be provided by the State.

    Usually when planned jobs are stretched to 4-5 years, it suggests that the involvement will be minor.

    A corroboration deal like this where there is not a big commitment by the multinational, is a useful way to research some new area for a small investment.

    The two ministers O’Keefe and Ryan made the announcement regarding United Technologies and 37 jobs this morning with the usual palaver terms such as “unique” and “ground-breaking,” this morning.

    Both departments issued press releases on the 37 jobs; neither of them issued any statement on the planned hiring of 50 additional people by the institute.

    The information on the State investment was curiously announced by only UCC.

  22. George Says:

    Mrs George once employed by Farran Technologies. Its based in Batt’s home town of Ballincollig. Do we get a piece of the action if any of the PhD’s come up with a winner? Seems thats not the way research funding works though, all the stake money is put up by the taxpayer and all the winnings go to the clever clogs..

  23. Pat Donnelly Says:

    “Do something”
    “Anything”

    Australia was keen to waste money on stimulus, having predicted for years that labour shortages would mean an increase in migration, to avoid the GFC. So they shovelled a couple of billions at energy conservation. One way is to employ untrained labour to lay metal foil batts in the roof space. Where there is a lot of electrical wiring. 5 deaths later, 150 roof fires later, the ex lead singer of “man at work” is demoted as the federal minister in charge and the balance of the stimulus is to be spent on electricians’ checking thousands of roof spaces for short circuits. But it avoided two quarters of decline, so whoopeee!

    Governments. Exist to spend money even if it is a waste. We need more governments or fewer governments? Australia is debating doing away with state governments. Melbourne may be bigger than Sydney by 2030. It has cheaper land policies. Hmmmm. Growth. Cheaper land. Probably just a coincidence……

  24. Paul Says:

    Strange that nobody in the media has noticed that UTC is a massive military business manufacturing most of the engines for US jet fighters and the famous Black Hawk helicopter. A quick look at their website would reveal this.

    Doesn’t seem to be particularly green.

  25. Joseph Says:

    @Paul - “manufacturing most of the engines for US jet fighters and the famous Black Hawk helicopter…. Doesn’t seem to be particularly green.”

    If someone’s got the business end of one of those things pointing at you and they tell you that it’s green……. then believe me, it’s green alright.

  26. Richard Tol Says:

    @Joseph/Paul/Holbrook
    UTC does more than weaponry. The facility in Cork will indeed focus on energy, but the press release says they will do demonstration rather than research. See http://www.utrc.utc.com/pages/NewsArticles/20100426_ireland.html

    @Sporthog
    20 million is small change in energy research. Yet, when put in the right hands, it could make a useful contribution to a sub-specialisation.

    @Georg
    I have long argued that universities should act as venture capitalists, taking stakes in the companies they spin off (in return for providing office space and access to research facilities). It is not clear to me (or to anyone I’ve asked) to what extent Irish universities do this. It cannot be big, though. I know of universities abroad who have rebuild their campuses with the money earned in IPOs, but that does not seem to have happened in Ireland.

  27. toby Says:

    The NMRC was re-named as the Tyndall Institute in 2004-2005. Possibly other parts of UCC were incorporated. So the name may not have made much impact on the databases.

    I visited the NMRC around that time in company with some Bell Labs scientists, and they were impressed.

    You should try NMRC and (possibly) UCC in your searches, Richard.

    Tyndall was from Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow. Carlow IT had (and may still have) a small exhibition of Tyndall memorabilia, including his very own Orange sash! You can see why he was not popular at some of the local Universities. In later years, he was an open opponent of Home Rule, but his views were a bit more sophisticated that that of a bigot.

    Tyndall has an important place in the history of science. Like his friend, Thomas Henry Huxley, he was a “science evangelist” and an important educator. The US Optics Society bestows a prestigious annual John Tyndall Award named after him. Tyndall was the the first to demonstrate total internal reflection of light in a column of water, and did show that CO2 was what we now call “a greenouse gas”. So we segue nicely back to the current topic!

  28. Al Says:

    I think we should also wish this enterprise the best.

    Each of the PHD’s and other employees there deserve the chance to do their best. The University is seeking to develop itself.

    Some of the criticism here has been levelled at government for:

    Presenting the solution to our problem as hi tech green high value jobs etc, while we have a large segment of the population are unemployed, non phd qualified and likely to attain; while local infrastructure like water supply, sewers and drains are rotting from years of neglect and willful ignorance.

    Focusing on PHD centred job recreation as if it had some kind of aristocratic virtue. It will be interesting to see the long term cost benefit analysis.

    Alot of people will be starting their careers down there.
    Best of luck to them

  29. The Alchemist Says:

    @Richard Tol

    “I know of universities abroad who have rebuild their campuses with the money earned in IPOs, but that does not seem to have happened in Ireland.”

    Some, very few, may have benefited from IP and cashing out equity stakes, for example the University of Florida State out of Gatorade, but the vast majority do not. Investigative journalist Jennifer Washburn dug into this a few years ago and revealed that most universities in the US chasing IP revenue actually lost money. Academic research by Bhaven Sampat and David Mowery concluded likewise. Moreover, the more the universities involved themselves with IP and equity, the more they risked compromising their objectivity. Not having a clean line between higher education and the market economy creates unhealthy ambiguities, creating a skewed model of innovation. Unfortunately in Ireland that is very much the history since independence. Clone 50 Michael O’Leary’s and give each €400k and see where that leads. I’d support research into that project.

  30. Con Says:

    The income that US universities derive from their IP is important mainly because it is the engine behind their technology transfer offices, which are responsible for finding commercial applications for research. The main benefits accrue to the wider economy.

    As only universities which are very successful get back as much as 5% of their research spend in this way, the income most universities get from licensing IP is usually more “icing on the cake” than core to their finances.

  31. MayoDub Says:

    There is much useful materials and insights on topics germane to the issues raised in this discussion on Chris Horn’s blog, for example :

    http://chrisjhorn.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/an-irish-smart-economy-aspiration-or-reality/#more-73

  32. Richard Tol Says:

    @Con/Alchemist

    I was not thinking about intellectual property at all.

    Some universities rent research facilities to part-time/former faculty and accept payment in company shares.

  33. Michael Hennigan - Finfacts Says:

    On the potentail for commercialisation, ETH - - the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich - - which is ranked as one of Europe’s top universities, in the decade to 2007, had 115 spin-outs and less than 1,000 jobs survivd after 10 years.

    Just got a PR:

    Minister O’Keeffe to announce major grants for ‘high-potential’ research
    projects

    The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Batt O’Keeffe TD, will
    tomorrow [Wednesday] announce significant grants for researchers to carry
    out cutting-edge work that will generate new jobs in the ‘smart’ economy.

    Marry policymaking with a short-term focus with a powerful vested interest, and wonder what will be the result.

  34. Al Says:

    @ Michael
    There may be an argument that this kind of spending assists in creating work experience that would happen otherwise?
    The career path of these employees would be valuable information in assessing cost benefit

  35. The Alchemist Says:

    According to a piece of RTE this morning the EU ‘globalization fund’ for the Dell workers who lost their jobs is €22 million. Someone connected with the local enterprise board, presumably involved in spending the fund, spoke of approving 29 projects recently - average cost was less than €20k per project. So €22 million is directed towards 1400 workers to help kick-start their ideas, while €20 million is directed at 50 other workers in energy research. There are some seriously nutty policies about.

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