The following is press coverage of an interview with Ricardo Raineri regarding AUI’s involvement with ICTL, translated by Google.
Intense have been the days for Ricardo Raineri in recent weeks. Traveling between Chile and the United States, the former Minister of Energy during the first government of Sebastián Piñera works against the clock in the development of the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies (ITL).
The economist was part of the group that led the application of the Associated Universities Inc (AUI), a consortium that was the winner in the Corfo tender, for what will be the largest research and development center in Latin America. However, the result of the tender has not been without controversy, since the winning consortium is mainly foreign. In fact, the criticism reached the point that the Chamber of Deputies approved the creation of an investigative commission for the alleged irregularities in the adjudication process.
What is the opinion of the recently appointed ITL Director of Development? Despite criticism, will the winning consortium become a worldwide technological reference in 2030? Next, Ricardo Raineri’s vision on these issues.
How did the idea for AUI to participate in Corfo’s bidding process come about?
The idea of participating in the bidding process is mainly based on our conviction that the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies is a unique opportunity for Chile, where AUI can contribute to the development of applied science and technology in different fields. This will allow Chile to scale significantly in the value chain and in regional competencies.
It should be noted that AUI is an autonomous and independent non-profit corporation whose objective is to promote innovation, the creation and transfer of technology, the development of human capital, education and outreach. Since its inception, it develops, builds and manages large research and technological development centers that exceed the capacities of a single institution (…).
That is why we consider that this project is very relevant both for the region and the country, as well as for the mining, energy sector and industry in general, from where we can contribute with our experience and capacity so that the ITL is a benchmark in the subjects of its competence.
What were the main challenges in the bidding process?
The international bidding process was known and transparent, with clear bases regarding what are the objectives sought by Corfo in the contribution that the institute must make to the development of the region, the northern macro-zone and the country, in matters of capacity development and skills in human capital, job creation, innovation, technological development, entrepreneurship and technology transfer, among other areas.
The milestones to be met during the process were adequately communicated to the contestants on the Corfo page, and in the same way, the deadline that Corfo established to present the proposals was adequate, and allowed us to develop a solid technical and economic proposal, with a robust group of partner institutions that complement its capabilities very well.
Among these, four Chilean universities stand out. The University of Atacama, San Sebastián, Autonomous of Chile and Development; as well as leading companies in the energy and mining sectors, investment funds, technology development companies, research centers and leading international universities.
During a year they worked hard, meetings were held with many actors and institutions, inviting universities, industries, research centers and other regional and community organizations. From all this process, an integrative proposal is generated, based on an open model, which will search for the best ideas and projects on the basis of its merit.
What will be the main guidelines or work focuses of the ITL in the short term?
The three sectors of development of the institute are in matters of solar energy, considering green hydrogen, sustainable mining and advanced materials of lithium and other minerals. In the short term, the focus will be on setting up the institute, seeking to make the interaction with all the actors as fluid as possible.
Our model encompasses three development axes. First, the formation of human capital. We want to help develop and implement technologies and train workers and actors in new technologies. In addition, there is the formation of advanced human capital, at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and the awakening of an appetite for scientific-technological training in elementary and middle school students.
Second, there is the development of new technologies and their transfer to the market, through patents and licenses, the creation of new companies and start-ups based on the technologies that we develop over time, or by creating products. advanced based on elements extracted in mining (copper, lithium, among others). Along with this is the entire development of the institute’s new research and technological development infrastructure, which will complement and connect with the existing infrastructure.
Finally, a relevant axis of the ITL is in its ability to relate and connect the community as a whole (…). This virtuous relationship will help us to identify the priorities for the work that the institute will carry out in the coming years.
What level of connection do you hope to achieve with local actors? Have you already had conversations with some entities?
In the first place, the ITL will operate under an open platform model, calling on universities, trade associations, companies and different entities to join (…). We have already received new expressions of interest to join this project at the regional, national and international levels.
It is important to emphasize that from a very early stage of the tender, we have been in contact and have invited local actors in the development of the ITL and, as we move forward, we will create the necessary instances to generate alliances with different types of associations of the northern macrozone. We do not want anyone to be left out of this important initiative for the country.
By winning the largest Research and Development (R&D) fund in Chile in recent decades, how do you expect to manage expectations regarding your work and results?
This is the largest R&D fund ever awarded in an international competition. These are resources from SQM, which will be transferred to the institute in a ten-year window, with an average annual contribution that does not exceed US $ 15 million.
Although in Chile this is the largest total amount awarded in a one-time contest, it is important to be able to multiply these resources several times, with contributions from industry, philanthropists, venture capitalists and investment, and many others, understanding that leading global research centers have annual budgets of US $ 1 billion and more. The only way to achieve this is by keeping alive the appetite of the industry and those demanding technology in the activities and developments of the institute (…).
Regarding the management of expectations, it is very important to deliver timely information, objective communications about the present and future activities of the ITL and their impacts on the northern macrozone.
What is your opinion of the criticisms that have been around Corfo’s decision, arguing that the winning consortium is mainly foreign?
We are convinced that our proposal is solid and meets all the requirements that a project of this type needs to be successful and contribute to the development of the northern macrozone and the Antofagasta Region. AUI and its 22 associates were awarded in a competitive, open and international tender, where we worked hard to present a high impact proposal.
Regarding criticism, it is essential to understand and emphasize that our proposal is based on an open platform model, where all universities, trade associations, companies and different entities that want to join are invited to join. The model with which it will operate is one that will democratize access to the institute’s resources and facilities for all on the basis of the merit of its proposals based on the ITL’s objectives.
In March, the Chamber of Deputies approved the creation of an investigative commission for the alleged irregularities in the process of awarding the ITL by Corfo. What is your opinion regarding this decision?
This was an international tender called by Corfo. AUI learned about the initiative in April 2019, after a presentation made by Corfo at MIT. After that, we sharpened our pencils and worked hard to, first, present an RFI in May 2019, and the proposal -RFP- in March 2020. Subsequently, we wait until we know the results of the evaluation carried out by the entity of the different proposals.
We present a very solid proposal, with a significant investment in infrastructure, inclusive and open to the entire community based on the merit of the proposals, and that has a business model that guarantees that its operation extends well beyond the first ten years in which contributions from SQM will be received, and that will allow it to multiply the resources that are sent to the institute, with a significant impact on the region, business generation and jobs already in the second decade of the 21st century.