banquete de inovação
Corporations of all sizes, agencies and institutions find in Tecnopuc the ideal environment to make progress with their innovation projects and networking. But there is another structural profile that has increased its capacity of developing cutting-edge research in cooperation with companies, with a strong focus in the training of human resources in science and technology-related fields: laboratories and research centers. This is another example of how research can reach the market in the form of innovations.
Currently, various PUCRS Institutes and Research Centers are established at Tecnopuc, with a diverse range of innovations being designed and developed every day. They are considered national and international benchmarks in their respective areas. The presence of these research environments in the Park is marked by the scientific density of the operations, as well as the profile of their managers and researchers in relation to innovation and interaction with the business sector.
BraIns: in the beginning, the brain
Physician Jaderson Costa da Costa explains one of the greatest benchmarks in brain studies in Brazil and Latin America in an almost obvious, but audacious way.
Admittedly a multidisciplinary space, it gathers scholars from the fields of Philosophy, Theology, Communication, Letters, Education, Engineering, Pharmacy, Biochemistry, and, of course, Medicine. The limits of what seems to be an infinite field of work are set. And the principle that underlies the composition of BraIns is to bring together areas that can benefit from the acquirement of knowledge of this theme by using the brain.
“All areas of knowledge have something to provide. One plus one does not equal two, but three, four”, he says.
One of the distinguishing features of such initiative in relation to the others existing in the country is the exponential exchange of expertise at the same place.“We are multidisciplinary to the infinite”, states the physician about the coverage range.
Situated in the Health area of the Institution, right in front of Ipiranga Avenue, where São Lucas Hospital and the Clinical Center are located, BraIns is not restricted to the physical space of its building, with its laboratories, highly sophisticated equipment and environments for the interaction of masters, doctors and other academics, in addition to the community in general, which participates in applied studies or uses the services provided there. The researchers carry out their investigations there, even if their schools and institutes are located in other parts of the Campus. The idea is to establish a broad cooperation network.
The axis is the patients and their difficulties. The knowledge gained helps us to understand the brain function in normal and pathological states, and work toward solutions along with the same base of researchers”,
says Jaderson Costa da Costa, director of BraIns.
BraIns was established in 2012 with its current denomination and status, but its origins are in the Institute for Biomedical Research, which was initially installed inside São Lucas Hospital. The conception and organization of the unit took five years prior to its official inauguration. In the beginning, the focus was on research and support to projects, in addition to training in medicine and health sciences.
However, the neuroscience area grew so much that it led to the creation of the Memory Center (headed by internationally renowned scientist Iván Izquierdo), the Cellular Therapy Center (a protagonist in the study of stem cells), and the Electrophysiology Center (which carries out influential studies on diseases such as epilepsy).
In order not to be restricted to a limited physical area, the institute was granted its own headquarters and concentrated unique skills in terms of Latin America. The enterprise became viable due to contributions from amendments of Rio Grande do Sul's parliamentary group in the National Congress, and from the Ministries of Health and Science, Technology and Innovation, with special attention to the roles played by State Deputy Osmar Terra and Senator Sérgio Zambiasi, who were decisive in the articulation of the State's parliamentary group, besides PUCRS itself. In the first stage of implementation, BRL 35 million were invested.
Diseases studied by medical sciences worldwide, such as Parkinson's, dementia and epilepsy, have a privileged environment for research, with a staff recognized for producing results. Such research findings are already revolutionizing the treatment of these diseases and disorders.
The research is performed in collaboration with leading units in Brazil, Canada, the United States and Europe in areas of knowledge production. This includes the potential for basic and clinical research of BraIns in the global effort to promote advances in neurological and behavioral disorders and encourage the development of new treatments. “We are a nucleus capable of contributing toward this assembly line with part of the knowledge. When everybody is gathered, we have the whole piece. Each person contributes in his/her own field of expertise”, explains the physician.
A segment that monopolizes the attention of society on a global scale due to its potential of generating health benefits, research using stem cells has mobilized and qualified scientists and their results since the beginning of the 2000s at PUCRS.
There were many developments and clinical studies in various stages in epilepsy, with considerable efforts in the recovery of the affected tissue, aiming at restoring structure and functionality.
The essential condition to boost science is available in the Institute through its current equipment and the possibility of reproducing environments for pharmaceutical trials, for example.
Technological contributions, as well as a minimum of human resources, are necessary to perform research and conduct these studies.
“As we certify procedures and satisfactory results, we enable ourselves to attract more participants. Thus, we create the bases for young researchers who wish to receive their education here”, says the physician.
Until 2007, the study of stem cells in epilepsy was restricted to the pre-clinical stage. The clinical stage, which began in 2008, is about to become a multicenter study. It is an initiative that soon will include the Neurology Department of the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and the Epilepsy Department of the Clinics Hospital of the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). All under coordination of BraIns.
BraIns reproduces in one of its units a type of pharmaceutical plant, in this case, focused on simulations and tests to evaluate treatments to fight diseases like cancer. Apparatuses such as the cyclotron, a particle accelerator, are part of the state-of-the-art arsenal that produces short-term markers that can be used in therapeutic tests and analyses. It is possible to create markers applied to any molecule in order to check if it reaches the therapeutic target or to evaluate a cell metabolism pathway.
The proximity of the material collection unit and the exams area, such as the PET/CT (diagnostic imaging technique in nuclear medicine), is essential. Isotopes such as fluorine 18 and carbon 11 have short lives, 110 and 20 minutes respectively.
If the research pursues a new drug for the treatment of, for example, Alzheimer's dementia, it is possible to attach a "tag" to a radioactive molecule and inject it to monitor the impact in vivo.
“Based on the tag generated by the cyclotron, the PET/CT exam checks if the molecule moved to the affected spot. In such environment, we can be sure that it will reach the right target”, says the director of BraIns.
Beside the cyclotron is the Radiopharmaceuticals Production Center (CPR), which operates within the sanitary standard requirements of Anvisa and the National Nuclear Energy Commission.
The Research and Development Laboratory is another unit there, and it is devoted to the creation of radiotracer molecules. “There is enormous potential here to develop new drugs for treatments”, says the pharmacist in charge of the complex, Louise Mross Hartmann.
The combination of such sophisticated equipment is an unprecedented condition, which further increases the potential for innovation of BraIns. This is the only place in Latin America with such conjunction. The fact that we have biologists, pharmacists, engineers, physicists and chemists working right along with physicians boosts the emergence of innovative ideas.
This technological collective is not limited (even if it is a gigantic enterprise) to research. It also provides conditions for diagnostic and treatment of patients who can benefit from the application of the technical resources.
All at no cost for those patients included in clinical studies, whose projects receive public or private funding. That is how the community is reached by our work: we give back the achievements of research in services or knowledge”, says Jaderson Costa da Costa.
From childhood to old age, there are diseases and disorders that involve the functioning of the brain. Therefore, BraIns is dedicated to research on all ages, for at every step there are different expectations and dynamics. One focus is to understand and study the aging of population and how to make this stage healthier.
In addition to the study of dementia – a research object –, a group of BraIns, in partnership with the Institute of Geriatrics of PUCRS, monitors inhabitants of a region of Porto Alegre in order to evaluate the aging process. The intention is to have parameters on the physiological aging. One goal is to know how to keep the brain working well, even during the aging process.
The intensification of the use of communication and information technologies (ICT) by young people is also the object of research projects. The goal is to understand the process of this relation and what affects the educational and social question. There is also a project dealing with dyslexia (a learning disability) that focuses on children.
In the laboratory, children who participate in the study read words and pseudowords, all through tests on computers, and the impact on the brain process is captured by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). During the tests, the focal point is to assess the reading and comprehension of syllables and words, explains Augusto Buchweitz, Doctor in Letters and Head of Research on Functional Neuroimaging of BraIns and Project Acerta – Assessment of Children at Learning Disorder Risk.
The exam identifies the regions with larger blood flow, in order to verify the ones that are more activated. “Those who read normally have an expected increase in the blood flow, so we can make a comparison with children who have learning difficulties and verify each area and the increase of the flow”, describes Buchweitz.
The control group consists of students from primary schools, who come to the institute, undertake hours of testing in the large MRI equipment, and collaborate so that the multidisciplinary science of BraIns shapes a better future for other children.
NT-Solar: the sun is the limit
The production of electricity from the sun was very slow until the second half of the 21st century in Brazil. However, research to achieve a more efficient photovoltaic module to generate this renewable source was intense. These efforts were led by the Solar Energy Technology Nucleus (NT-Solar) team of Tecnopuc, which created one of these devices with national technology.
The Nucleus was established at the end of the 1990s, after Professors of Engineering Adriano Moehlecke and Izete Zanesco conducted research that resulted in the most efficient solar cell ever developed in Brazil until then. The creation of the energy sector fund (CT-Energ), during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, motivated electricity companies financially to invest in research through centers in universities. The connection in Rio Grande do Sul was CEEE, besides Petrobras, Eletrosul and Finep.
National awards won by the NT-Solar team – by professionals who were then linked to PUCRS' Institute of Physics – opened up more opportunities for funding, which made the establishment of the Nucleus possible, simultaneously to the creation of Tecnopuc.
Moreover, the Brazilian Center of Solar Energy (CB-Solar) was created at that time, as an initiative of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to associate research reference centers in the field of renewable energy.
And PUCRS was chosen to host it. In its inception, there was a partnership with the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS) and the University of Madrid (Spain).
The technological opportunity was allied to a significant supply of solar radiation, from North to South of Brazil. Finep, CEEE, Petrobras and Eletrosul were all part of the first actions undertaken to make what would become the first pilot plant for production of solar cells and photovoltaic modules with national technology.“It was also the first time that a plant of this kind was set up on a university campus”, says Izete, explaining that what is traditionally done is to carry out basic research in Academia and production outside, in a regular factory.
The initial investment was BRL 6.5 million to build a complete production and characterization line of solar cells and photovoltaic modules. NT-Solar occupies an area of 950 m² on the first floor of building 96A of Tecnopuc, with 16 laboratories – seven of which in a "cleanroom" environment. The annual budget to keep research active is BRL 1 million.
The conditions for the development of this solar energy nucleus started to become a reality in Brazil. However, at that time there was not a factory in Brazil. The project at Tecnopuc aimed precisely at creating this condition and gradually reducing the dependence on import of equipment.
The Brazilian territory is abundant in silicon, the raw material of wafers, a type of ultra thin blade. But what is produced here is silicon at metallurgical level. This material, which undergoes purification in international plants, returns to the country to be used in the development of photovoltaic cells.
With NT-Solar's cutting-edge infrastructure, a silicon blade is processed for the manufacture of solar cells. The whole process is done in the laboratories, in a controlled environment. The air is filtered to remove any particles over 5 microns (the fifth part of a million), which the human eye cannot see.
In this process, the blade is processed in the hot cells, where texturing and chemical tests are run. Visually, in this step, its color changes, becoming darker and facilitating the absorption of solar radiation. Everything is done in an environment with filtered air, and researchers involved in these steps wear special clothes to prevent contamination of silicon blades.
After the blades are textured, they go to the diffusion laboratory, where materials are put in kilns and subjected to a temperature of 850 degrees Celsius. Before, unwanted impurities were neutralized; now, other specific impurities such as phosphorus, boron and aluminum, called dopants, are introduced to change the conductivity of the cell.
The deposition of the anti-reflection film (blue color cell) is one of the last steps. The film reduces the reflection of solar radiation.
In essence, it looks like the dust you can see when a surface is lit." If this dust falls over the silicon blade (a semiconductor), it will ruin the material”, says Adriano Moehlecke, one of the coordinators of NT-Solar.
To have a solar energy system, the investment per house is something between BRL 15,000 and BRL 20,000. Terminals are installed at the distribution box for electric power generated by the module to enter the system. Consumption meters show the amount of electricity used in the household, and the surplus is injected back to the grid, producing benefits for other users.
In energy, less is more. Applying this equation to photovoltaic generation means obtaining a module that enables a higher conversion rate at a lower cost.
“Investments must be reduced so that the resource can be used again in a shorter time frame. This is the key to the use of solar energy, and this is the job of the research teams at NT-Solar”, says Moehlecke.
There are no shortcuts here, only records to break. The conversion efficiency rate obtained by the nucleus is among the best in the world, between 16% to 17%. The goal for the group at Tecnopuc is 20%. In one decade, this goal is expected to be achieved. At this stage, as Moehlecke recalls, advances occur more in the development process than in research. They deal with incremental improvements.
The list of challenges the researchers are faced with every day is respectable. As far as blade thickness go, the goal is to achieve a thickness of 0.1 millimeter, which is the equivalent to a sheet of paper. In 2014, operated blades were 0.2 mm to 0.3 mm thick. To have an ultra-thin wafer depends on the supplier.
“For thinner blades, there is less consumption of silicon, which is the most expensive component”, says the project leader. Researchers will have an equally delicate handling process, so that, during processing, the wafer is not broken before the solar cell and photovoltaic panels are finished.
With raw materials under this specification, more adversity will come, such as how to deal with passivation on surfaces, which will require a cover made not only of anti-reflective film. Therefore, new materials need to be researched. This whole challenge will enable the use of blades of a lower quality, which will decrease manufacturing costs. The world is working toward this, and the NT-Solar team as well.
All Brazil needs to get a boost in this field is to have industries that can produce the technology developed by the nucleus at Tecnopuc in great scale. With a small market, the permanent demand for investments in improvements and innovations cannot be supported. Between July 2013 and July 2014, only nine megawatts were installed.
Attracting plants to manufacture products is a basic condition to boost the use of this source in the national energy matrix, which today represents only a mere 0.01% of the generated energy. These projects would also demand more research centers such as NT-Solar. The annual investments in R&D in one of these factories is estimated in BRL 5 million, enough to give access to tax incentives, which are part of the policies for the segment.
The key point is to have an industry here. It does not even need to be a national venture capital, the most important thing is that it brings along its R&D – it is not supposed to be just an assembler of panels”, says the coordinator of the nucleus. The world is running, and Brazil needs to rise to this potential.
Some countries are being able to push the equipment industry toward the field of solar energy. China, for instance, accelerated its production, and is responsible today for over half of the global module market, due to governmental support and a great deal of investment. Germany chose to pay three times more for the production of photovoltaic energy by residential modules.“The small producers need cheaper credit to generate clean energy. It is a matter of state, not government”, says Moehlecke.
City and state governments could create incentives based on deduction of taxes such as the Urban Real Estate Tax (IPTU) and the Tax on the Circulation of Goods and Services (ICMS). The researcher believes that new ways to generate energy must be encouraged, and deducting taxes is a way of showing it is worth it.
The first incentive in Brazil came in mid-2014, with the launch of a BNDES program encouraging the use of national modules.
The reserve energy auction promoted by the Brazilian Electricity Regulatory Agency (ANEEL) was the biggest so far in attracting this type of resource, giving the impression that it could finally leave the experimental status.
The coordinator of NT-Solar estimates that if the advantages are well-calculated, they could attract investors, who could then use the technology developed by the Tecnopuc unit. In Brazil, soccer stadiums such as Mineirão and Maracanã have adopted photovoltaic systems. Moehlecke believes that, if an annual volume could be ensured, the goal for energy acquisition would support the operation of a factory producing national items.
The first possibility, which we have always asked for, is now open, and now the government is paying attention”, he says.
If the country indeed wants to start generating more than 1% of its energy matrix from the sun, NT-Solar is ready. The goal is to show the value of producing clean energy from a resource that is plentiful in Brazil.
On the photovoltaic panel created at NT-Solar, there is a tiny drawing imprinted on the surface.
- What do you see?
, asks Adriano Moehlecke, one of the coordinators of the nucleus.
- An alligator?
- That's it.
The reptile has become the trademark registered by PUCRS to protect the authorship of the innovation of pilot plant photovoltaic panels. Every cell comes with the symbol. If anyone tries to copy it, they will not succeed.
And why the alligator? He explains that, in the conception of the process, the animal looked good; besides, no other animal would be as fitting.
“The alligator likes to sunbathe and has those spikes (scales), and their form reminds us of photovoltaic cells. We made the drawing, and the spikes filled the back just right”, Moehlecke says.
Since its approval as a symbol, the alligator and its scales have protected the product, which symbolizes a turning point in the R&D-fueled production of energy from the sun in Brazil.
IPR, in partnership with Petrobras, aims at developing innovation to support the generation of new energy sources.
IPR: Tecnopuc's pre-salt
One of the most promising reserves for oil extraction in the world is in the Brazilian shore, extending from the states of Espírito Santo to Santa Catarina, the latter bordering the state of Rio Grande do Sul. However, another potential treasure relating to the pre-salt layer is at Tecnopuc.
The Institute of Petroleum and Natural Resources (IPR), a project joining PUCRS' research teams and Petrobras, aims at generating innovation and knowledge to boost even more the perspective for the production and new energy sources. Who stands to win from this? Brazil.
IPR is an achievement of the Center of Excellence in Research and Innovation in Petroleum, Mineral Resources and Carbon Storage (Cepac), and is paramount for the Science and Technology Park when it comes to applied research and development. Investments in the institute have already reached BRL 60 million in seven years.
The building in which it all happens, totaling over 4,000 m² and seven floors, is located at the entrance of Tecnopuc, close to the Campus access on Bento Gonçalves Avenue. Over 50 researchers work there, from the fields of geology, geography, biology, chemistry, engineering and physics.
The headquarters host a pilot plant never before seen in the world, replicating ocean conditions at depths of 2,000 meters. Studies conducted there will make it possible to check, for example, how gas hydrates are structured at sea. The plant carries out simulation in high pressure and low temperature environments, by means of injecting gases such as methane, ethane, butane, propane, ammonia and carbon dioxide (CO2), in addition to water.
The mission is bold and unprecedented, and will bring benefits for the environment. There is a large deal of carbon dioxide amid the oil and gas that make up the pre-salt layer. Instead of releasing it into the atmosphere, which is the most widespread practice in the world, in Brazil there is an attempt to return carbon dioxide to the reservoir.
It is a noble cause, and not an easy task; therefore, the technical skills from the institute will be essential. Ketzer explains that, in the return process, it is necessary to figure out how the rock will behave. Incidentally, this is the focus of the research: figuring out how to return the carbon dioxide, ensuring that the chemical interactions between the gas and the rock do not compromise the safety of the reservoir.
Understanding the pre-salt environment is essential. The mix is highly corrosive, with oil and acid, and equipment that can withstand this hostile condition are needed. In fact, nothing is simple when extraction takes place several kilometers deep. For this to be possible, steel tubes are cemented into the rock, which is full of pores. Through the pores, injecting water and carbon dioxide, an agent that corrodes the cement, is possible.
We studied this corrosion process to propose new materials or additives to cement that can modify the characteristics of the components and make them more resistant to the activities on the ocean floor”, explains the director, who is a graduated geologist.
IPR was created from the CEPAC initiative, linked with PUCRS' Institute for the Environment (IMA). Growth was accelerated from the establishing of a relationship with Petrobras, in 2005, to the creation of CEPAC in 2007. In the first year, studies covered the oil exploration in the Santos Basin. The need for investment instigated the strategic decision of the University and of one of the greatest oil companies in the world to establish the unit at the Science and Technology Park.
PUCRS provided land and human capital for research. Unlike other models at Tecnopuc, where the enterprise is physically present, Petrobras is not physically in the park, but it funds studies.
In one of the laboratories established at the Institute, the challenge of researchers is to understand how the rock was formed and why it has so much oil. Research in this segment intends to achieve greater success in exploration. The equation that must be solved concerns how to find more oil or reduce risks in exploration at lower costs. Any research project that achieves this will be considered extremely valuable. One example of the size of investments is the amount of funds applied for drilling the first pre-salt well in Brazil: over USD 200 million.
IPR members know that whenever Petrobras is involved, not only the potential for wealth is huge, expectations are also high. The attention from the research team in the company is more focused toward the discoveries made.
Between 2012 and 2014, there were five expeditions in the coast of Rio Grande do Sul, departing from the Port of Rio Grande (RS), where boats aimed at scientific operations set sail with the participants. In one of them, an unmanned submarine helped to get a more detailed screening of the seabed. Over 75,000 pictures were taken in a single expedition. The submarine has a programmed route, and every two days rises to surface and delivers everything it collected. In another situation, a robot with articulated arms capable of going down to the seabed was used to collect materials.
The missions increase the research possibilities even further. Little known biological materials are extracted and analyzed for their potential biotechnological use. The samples are stored in special chambers at 80 degrees below zero.
“Several species of microorganisms are found in each mission, and this shows us that there is still a vast amount of unknown diversity of life”, says Ketzer.
Ubilab: communication in motion
The mobile devices revolution is reconfiguring not only the relationships between persons, but also their interaction with cities. What can we say about Google Glass, for instance? The augmented reality glasses have achieved a higher status due to the great number of functions it offers – all of which have connectivity as its great triumph.
Available for a limited time on the market in 2014, the product rose the status of mobile devices to an almost fictional level. Because of its interactivity capability, it became an example of subject under study in the Laboratory of Research in Mobility and Media Convergence (Ubilab), established at Tecnopuc.
Eduardo Pellanda, Doctor in Communication from PUCRS and holder of a Post-Doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), participated of a research project on the use of Google Glass in museums, with the sponsorship of a Turkish cellular phone operator. He says that, with the device, looking at a painting goes beyond only seeing, as the device allows visitors to obtain real-time additional information on the work.
What defines these new relations is ubiquity, a concept that summarizes the idea of having the information available anywhere, with computerized devices as tools in the process. “When you are in a city, being offline is no longer acceptable. Even if there is no more battery on your cell phone, there will be a screen or a radio connected to the Internet. The individual will be online somehow, and this is what we mean when we speak of ubiquity, which creates an even greater context than simple mobility”, says Pellanda.
PUCRS' projects in this area began to be developed at the School of Communication (Famecos), in the early 2000s, with initiatives geared toward getting the University involved with the digital environment. One of the first actions was installing a Wi-Fi network at Praça da Alfândega, in Porto Alegre, for live streaming videos from the 2003 Book Fair. The laboratory soon expanded its initiatives, and started working with companies. In 2011, it became a part of Tecnopuc.
Analyzing how people relate to mobile devices and the available information is the focus of at least two important studies conducted by Ubilab, with the support of CNPq.
One of them seeks to analyze the multiscreen context, especially the tiny ones found in Google Glass or smartwatches. And, of course, those found in smartphones, tablets and computers. The goal of the group coordinated by Pellanda is to understand how interfaces can flow through those screens and how users interact.
The other study is complementary to the first, and aims at identifying ways to filter contents better. A lot of information is available on the Internet, and it is necessary to understand what is more relevant to people; that is, which information they actually want to read.
To get this and other answers, Ubilab has since 2008 maintained close ties to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), through the MIT Mobile Experience Lab. The institutions carry out joint research studies in the mobility area.
One of the results of this work is Locast, a mobile video platform that enables users to collect, report and broadcast news and information related to their urban routines. The project aims at creating a new channel for citizenship, and has relied on the collaboration of Ubilab for its development.
In the first semester of 2015, the partnership was expanded with the initiative Wise Campus: redesigning the campus of tomorrow to foster research and education, which will include the exchange of researchers and students between PUCRS and MIT.
“This study will have a direct impact on the academic community, because it will help us understand how on-campus relations can be enabled using social networks, mobile devices, sensors and other new technologies”, says Pellanda.