22. 02. 2024

The largest project in the history of VSB-TUO will turn the Moravian-Silesian Region into a smart and green region

VSB – Technical University of Ostrava (VSB-TUO) in cooperation with the University of Ostrava (OU) and other partners is launching the REFRESH project to respond to the region’s challenges and contribute to its successful economic, energy and environmental transformation. It will use the research results of top scientific teams to develop new technologies for key areas such as sustainable energy, new materials or robotics and automation in industry. An integral part of the project will be to assess the societal and economic impacts of the transformation, as well as to create the conditions for rapid transfer of results into practice. REFRESH has received a grant of CZK 2.5 billion from the Operational Programme Fair Transformation and is the largest project in the history of VSB-TUO.

REFRESH is based on a unique concept of interconnected living laboratories where cutting-edge research is carried out in close contact with companies and in accordance with the requirements of end users. Based on this approach, VSB-TUO and the Moravian-Silesian Innovation Centre, with the support of the leadership of the Moravian-Silesian Region, have created a strategic vision for the transformation of the region called SMARAGD (SMARt And Green District). The REFRESH project is a key tool for its implementation.

 “Living Labs are the basis for multifaceted cooperation. They will respond to the most important societal problems and bring solutions to them. The aim is to provide the conditions for the inflow of young people, top scientists and investment into the region, as well as the creation of new companies and start-up projects or the introduction of innovations into the production processes of large enterprises and companies. This will significantly strengthen their competitiveness on a Europe -wide scale. We will bring new energy and opportunities to the region, show the perspective to young talented people and contribute to the transformation of the region into a smart and green region,” said Igor Ivan, Director of REFRESH and Vice-Rector of VSB-TUO for Strategy and Cooperation.

New materials, hydrogen technologies and digitalization

The four interconnected living labs aim to develop materials and technologies aimed at green energy and reducing the carbon footprint, as well as to put into practice new methods of digitalization and robotization of industrial processes and automation in transport. “The research teams will also respond to the growing demand for new materials in the energy sector and other industries that still use expensive, geopolitically unavailable or difficult to recycle raw materials. An integral part of the project will also be the development of unique technologies for addressing old environmental burdens, cleaning mine water and generally revitalising post-coal landscapes,” said Radek Zbořil, head of the Materials – Envi Lab and one of the project’s main coordinators.

The researchers will also work on the use of alternative energy sources, hydrogen technologies or innovative methods of energy storage in modern battery systems. “The transformation of the energy sector towards the use of sustainable low-carbon technologies is a key step towards a modern and resilient society. This is where the Energy Lab’s research will be directed, where we will systematically investigate methods and technologies for the energy recovery of alternative fuels, including research on energy conversion and management, as well as analysis of the impact of research results on society and the environment,” said Stanislav Mišák, Head of the Energy Lab and Director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Technologies at VSB-TUO.

Another of the living labs, Industry 4.0 & Automotive Lab, will also work closely with industry. “Within the framework of research programmes and activities focused on innovation, we will fundamentally accelerate the introduction of digitalisation with applications of artificial intelligence, robotics and additive manufacturing technologies in industrial plants. We are coming up with new means of automation in transport, for example in the form of smart parking or anti-collision systems in public space,” said Petr Šimoník, head of the laboratory and vice-dean for cooperation with industry at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science of VSB-TUO.

Technicians and natural scientists will connect with social scientists

An important part of this will be to monitor changes in the region through the lens of social sciences and humanities.  “For example, the situation in traditional industries, including Liberty Ostrava, shows that the region will need social and organisational models in the field of new competences and technologies. The transition to a low-carbon economy may be faster than expected. We want to help use its potential and at the same time prevent the “geography of discontent” from limiting the region’s development,” explained Ondřej Slach, head of another living lab – the Social Lab and Vice-Rector of the OU.

The total cost of the project is CZK 2.625 billion, of which one billion is for new instrumentál equipment. In addition to the national supercomputing centre IT4Innovations and the recently opened Centre for Energy and Environmental Technologies – explorer (CEETe) at VSB-TUO, other state-of-the-art facilities will be added: laboratories focused on fuel cells and battery storage, the most powerful national microscopy centre, a polygon for the development of autonomous vehicles and one of the largest university 3D printing centres in Central Europe. More than 100 new, mostly international scientists will be involved in research in the living labs, and much of the university’s current 12,000+ students will benefit from the unique infrastructure.

Cooperation with companies and public administration

“Education, entrepreneurship, innovation and cooperation between the public administration, the private sector and universities are values that can significantly accelerate the transformation process of our region. In the REFRESH project, all these areas are interconnected, and the Moravian-Silesian Region is also developing a number of other strategic projects aimed at making our region an attractive region that brings new talent and investors. We want to strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of our region and contribute to stopping the outflow of people that unfortunately still bothers us,” added Jan Krkoška, the Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region.

The two universities have committed to generating CZK 450 million in revenue through cooperation with industrial partners. VSB-TUO actively cooperates with more than 500 companies, a significant number of which are interested in actively participating in the research in the living laboratories. VŠB-TUO will also cooperate with German colleagues from the Fraunhofer company to transfer the results into practice. This world-renowned research institution is a partner of the REFRESH project, which runs according to a set schedule.

The European Union co-financed operational programme Fair Transition is aimed at addressing the negative impacts of the shift away from coal in the most affected regions. In the Czech Republic, in addition to the Moravian-Silesian Region, it also concerns the Karlovy Vary and Ústí Regions. The aim of the support is to enable the regions to address the social, economic and environmental impacts of the transition.