“ Our target are big companies as well as small companies and institutions”
“General awareness of unsustainability problems in our society will help all of us to improve”
“The greatest pride stems from your clients acknowledging a well-done job”
SQ.- Tell us about CTQ. How was it launched? What is its mission?
MM. CTQ is a technology center that focuses on Chemistry. It was launched in the framework of a strategic plan aimed at transferring knowledge from University to society. Within this framework, a study was performed by the Rovira i Virgili University (URV) to pinpoint the economic areas that could require such services. The chemical sector was among the detected areas, given the impact of the petrochemical industry in the Camp de Tarragona (Tarragona region). Other areas included tourism, oenology, nutrition and healthcare. The Technological Centers associated to such activities arised from that study, and they were created in the URV Excellence Campus.
This connects us to the URV, which is a source of pride and pleasure, and makes it possible for us to obtain new contributions and sources. This can be seen by looking at the members of our Board, which was joined by UPC two years ago. We are open to collaborations with any institution interested in cooperating with us.
We have a clearly defined mission: provide solutions to the industry. Solutions may be different from each other, but they are always to be related to Chemistry, and they may tackle difficulties, problems or potential problems: with the tools now available to us, we may pinpoint the most appropriate answer to a difficulty… We have a service vocation and are focused on practical solutions.
Besides, we perform R+D-oriented activities, and the combination of these two aspects enables us to keep a certain number of scientists who contribute content to our projects. We care for each project individually, which implies we may search for the group or groups that are most suitable for every given project. By working from a cross-cutting point of view, we may choose from many knowledge sources and try to join them in a unique, global project.
SQ.- What is the CTQ contribution to companies? Which kind of technologies may companies benefit from?
MM. We try to provide value-added solutions, and I think we are achieving our goals quite successfully. As I mentioned before, we search for the solution to a problem: this is our “entrance door”, although we may offer other “services” additionally.
We are talking about relatively low-reaching projects that require highly specialized staff and achieve very robust solutions. These do not provide either top-class technology nor basic research developments, but they do provide a practical solution to the problems detected in the company’s daily work.
We contributed to very different projects, in several different areas, because chemistry may be a fundamental pillar or else a background aspect. In any of these industrial situations, we try to provide the required solution.
SQ.- The chemical sector is a strategic sector in our society. Which is the role of technology development centers in this context?
MM. Indeed, the chemical sector is a strategic sector in our country. The chemical industry is solid, it provides qualified job posts that make it possible to develop processes and technology, which are always a hallmark of continuity, progress and future perspectives for a territory.
The contribution of Technology Centers is key in this area, both in terms of their connections to Universities as knowledge cores and of the broad range of experts they may grant access to, in the sense of projects being cross-cutting as I mentioned before. It is not easy for companies to have access to such diversity, not even for the ones with more financial resources; therefore, they come to us.
SQ.- Could you give us an outline of the most innovative lines you are working on right now?
First of all, I would like to point out that, for me, “innovating is not inventing”. Innovation involves searching for the solution that suits your given problem best, and which may radically change the way work was being done until that very moment, or how work was being handled. In some occasions the solution was an easy one, but we could not see it because we needed to broaden our focus, widen our perspective…
The CTQ is particularly strong in some given scientific aspects, and I think this is where the centre may provide more added value:
- Catalysis, which is focused on the maximization of reaction efficiency (increased sustainability, waste reduction…) including practical, feasible development, which includes the corresponding environmental improvement.
- CO2 transformation: we are working on some projects to turn it into polymeric products, and we are also working on an European Project along with the University of Turin to transform CO2 in an eco-refinery. Without any doubt, this is one of the challenges the scientific community is currently facing.
I think both fields have always been a priority, but social awareness of this subjects is much higher now, which means all of us expect better solutions; this implies achieving more sustainable developments and turning to Circular Economy.
- Advanced materials is the third field where we work. These are highly complex materials from a technological point of view, and the CTQ has moved one step forward in the area of smart membranes and their practical applications. For each given application, we find the most suitable membrane for both the process and the problem to be solved. We have a very good team working on this technological area.
- We also work on nanotechnology, an area with a very bright future. As we do for membranes, we create tailor-made developments for every given process.
- Finally, I would like to point out some examples of industrial developments in the environmental issues area, such as the odour identification project in the Camp de Tarragona (Tarragona region) or a project that tackles emission minimisation by optimizing the public transport network in the city of Tarragona. These are environmental projects that focus on considering cities to function as industries, and optimizing them accordingly.
The aforementioned projects are real, tailor-made solutions from SmartQuimic for a SmartCity. I would like to emphasize that a SmartCity provides great value and are a big step forward, because people take part in problem identification, and therefore are part of the solution. This helps identify problems with the utmost accuracy: emission problems, too much traffic in a given area… From then onwards, general awareness is raised on unsustainability problems in our society, and that will help all of us to improve.
SQ.- Let’s have an overview of the 5 years that have gone by since the Centre was created…
MM. I have been the President of CTQ for 3 years; right before me, the President was Joan Pedrerol, former President of AEQT and Director of Repsol’s Industrial Complex in Tarragona.
Our small team is extremely proud of what we have achieved in this 5 years, because the Centre was created in a very difficult period. Those who invested their efforts in our project made a very wise choice: focusing on solutions. And we reached the goal of having more private projects than public ones, which is particularly relevant in the current, difficult days.
We moved forward in a reasonable time frame and with a very positive attitude.
Right now, my personal goal is to open pathways to SMEs; small and medium enterprises usually lack specific departments and resources because of their small size, and it is important for them to have a Centre like ours available. We should move in that direction.
It could be encouraging for some of these companies to see we may provide real help; it would be nice to start with short-term projects at reasonable costs (within their possibilities). Sometimes, this is what we need, as industries and as a country; to see that we are moving in the right direction and feel at home with what we are doing, so that we may keep on working and moving towards the future.
SQ.- The CTQ was recently awarded a Special Acknowledgement by CEPTA. Who awards the acknowledgement and what does it imply for the Centre you preside?
MM. We are a humble, discreet team, and we are really proud of our achievements. The acknowledgement was awarded by the Confederación Empresarial de la Provincia de Tarragona (CEPTA) (“Business Alliance of the Tarragona Province”) as a recognition to our collaboration work in R+D+i projects both with companies and institutions, and even with municipalities. An example would be the odour detection project I mentioned before.
And the greatest pride stems from your clients acknowledging a well-done job.
SQ.- How do you regard the scientific potential in our country?
MM. We lack direction and strong support. The structure is already available, but we are in need of specialists with a much broader, applied mindset. Researchers are really good, but they should see further and learn to work in spaces where all disciplines are present; groups and direction are what makes us grow.
Real networking, focusing on real needs. As a country, I think we lack ambition to some degree; we should also believe more in ourselves.
The work required to move in the opposite direction should be done as early as possible, from school. Pupils should be taught critical thinking skills, how to develop knowledge and search further even when an immediate solution is reached. We have a problem with actitudes, not aptitudes. As a society, we should do our best to include training and knowledge in people’s DNA, because that is a way to face big challenges.
SQ.- Tell us something about the recently created cluster ChemMed, and the role it plays in CTQ as an innovation centre.
MM. The driving force behing Chem Med was also Joan Pedrerol. He was aware of the great potential in Tarragona, both to maintain what is already available and to attract new interest… In this region, industry has always been regarded as the “lesser evil”, not as a provision of value and wealth. As time went by, this regard started to improve, but there is still much to be done, and groundwork should also be done in schools and by making knowledge available to society.
By working together, we obtain a new way to look at things, and people feel safer. And for those who want to join for the first time, on seeing that that there is a good organization and that good services are provided they will feel they are in the right place to stay. The additional asset are all the knowledge management centres (URV, ICIQ and CTQ).
I would like to add that CTQ also collaborates in other industry areas and makes important contributions to them. An example would be the Beauty Cluster Barcelona, a recently created cluster we contributed to found. In this cluster we offer the contributions of the chemical sector to cosmetics; we believe our cooperation in the area will be good for all.
SQ.- What do you think the future of the chemical sector will be like? Specifically, what do you think about the future of technological centers such as the one you preside?
MM. The future looks quite uncertain, but we are moving in the right direction. We will be affected, but we will also know for sure that our future must be based on efficiency. Such efficiency would make it possible for us to survive and become specialists in processes and product.