Commercialization of Scientific and Technical Developments at Higher Education Institutes
St. Petersburg State Mining Institute (Technical University)
Founded in 1773, the St. Petersburg State Mining Institute (Technical University) was the first higher technical educational institute in Russia. The institute has played a key role in the development of the geological sciences and related industries. The only mining university of a polytechnic type in the country, it covers all aspects of mineral exploration and assessment of metallurgy. The institute traditionally has had close connections with production, and it currently has more than 100 professors and 600 candidates of science working actively in the fields of geology, mining engineering, and metallurgy.
As a leading higher education institution, the institute plans its activity with following considerations in mind:
- social reforms, structural reforms of science and industry, development of educational services;
- reforms in the professional education system and transition of education to a multilevel structure; and
- changes in the status of many higher educational institutes and the transformation of some into academies and universities.
The institute's capability to respond to the changes guarantees its survival and further development.
Priority Tasks of the University
Three years ago, the institute's senate determined that the primary activities had to include scientific research. This research must be conducted on the basis of creation a flexible management structure. It must encompass scientific developments related the needs of society and the state and effectively apply scientific potential to improve the quality of specialists. The specific tasks include:
- retraining the administrative staff;
- improving the managerial structure of the university;
- developing norms for increasing the responsibility and discipline of the employees at all levels;
- creating a system for forecasting, planning, controlling, registering, and analyzing condition related to managerial and financial activity;
- creating a network of programs for quick and comprehensive problem solving at all levels;
- applying innovative decision-making methods;
- providing multiple financing sources for all university activities; and
- improving the efficiency of resource use.
Given the country's economic problems, the institute has to address many issues to create and maintain an appropriate environment for work while improving the quality of scientific and educational activities.
Demand for University Science
An analysis of the demand for institute services revealed that the following factors have affected the basic production assets of industry: low quality of domestic industrial products, active competition from imported products, and a steep decline in production and investment. To identify customers for university research, the institute also analyzed its sources of research funding. The effort revealed the following distribution:
- funds from enterprises: 87 percent
- state budget funds: 4.5 percent
- foreign funds: 5.0 percent
- off-budget funds: 2.0 percent
- other sources: 1.5 percent
These investigations suggested that:
- university science can be of interest to domestic enterprises,
- scientific work has to have a short payback period,
- introduction of a new product does not demand a large startup investment (up to $5 million), and
- enterprises are less concerned about securing patent rights than about securing their rights to use the final products.
On the basis of these insights, the institute identified requirements for its scientific research.
The institute's laboratories were merged according to the industries they served (oil, gas, refinery, etc.). Innovation and technological laboratories were
created for each area. A new laboratory—an analytical, innovation, and technological center—was established to:
- create databases on productive assets,
- amass geoinformation,
- solve technological problems of production enterprises,
- assess industrial infrastructure conditions, and
- create databases for regional innovation programs.
To attract and retain the best scientists for research, the institute formulated new personnel policies. All research engineers were subject to unannounced appraisals. As a result, the best professional scientists were identified and subsequently retained during staff reductions. Labor contracts were negotiated with all employees. And a differential system of remuneration of labor was introduced.
The institute has undertaken important applied research in many areas.
More than 22,000 fields of various minerals are found in Russia. Many useful minerals have been salvaged from depleted mines, the refuse of mills, and the waste products of metal manufacturers. These sources constitute a huge reserve of valuable minerals. For instance, platinum, polymetals, and a number of rare minerals are found in the large quantities of ore in Kolskiy peninsula, Karelia, Norilsk, and Altai. The institute not only possesses exploration, mapping, and deposit estimation capabilities for these sites, it also employs the newest methods for enrichment and physical-chemical processing.
New nonlinear geoelectromechanical methods of exploration are used in the ore and oil and gas fields. For exploration, delineation, and estimation of the ore bodies, the contact method of the polarization curves is used. For the estimation of content of metal in solutions in underground ore leaching, particularly in the copper and uranium fields, the polarographic logging is employed. The concentration of dissolved organic substances, including mineral oil, in underground water and in surface water bodies can be determined by the laser-luminescent logging (LLL). This method is also used to assess ecological conditions, especially along the paths of oil and gas pipelines. An optical system based on the difference between the beam reflections of the surface of clean water and oil film efficiently detects oil leakages from pipelines into rivers and other bodies of water.
Several types of electrothermal and electromechanical tools have been developed. These tools have been used to bore holes more than 16,000 meters deep in the Arctic and Antarctic to obtain ice cores in the rock iceboxes. For the first time, the cycling of climate change on Earth was proven, and four glacial and interglacial periods were identified as a result of isotope investigations of nearly 600,000-year-old ice cores. Through the use of sterilized sampling in geochemical and microbiological investigations, microorganism in some ice cores were proved to be 200,000 years old. In addition, new techniques using high temperature penetrators simultaneously with ecologically pure pipeless enforcement have been developed for boring holes in loose, loosely bonded, and porous rocks, especially watered and frozen rocks. The newest heat-resistant composites, which do not require the usage of an inert gas to prevent oxidation, also have been adapted for drilling. Electrothermodrilling is important for many projects, including developing water supplies, reinforcing basements of old buildings, and laying cable. A high-temperature penetrator of the condensation type that has been patented in Russia and in the United States could be used for hazardous waste disposal in salt domes. Finally, the institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory are jointly researching methods to enforce and insulate oil and gas wells using bonding materials with low melting points and thermal packing penetrators.
Product Development and Services
In addition to applied research, the institute develops specific products for industry. For the oil and gas industry, the institute is engaged in several enhanced recovery projects, including research on water and steam injections, improved flow rates, and enhanced imaging. The institute also has developed new technologies that are used for surveys of rock massifs, engineering structures, and architectural monuments. These technologies are more accurate and provide more usable algorithms than previous technologies. The effectiveness of the institute's magnetic prospecting and electrometry procedures for studying and extracting underground archeological objects has been confirmed by the discovery of valuable architectural objects in Greece, Italy, and Southeast Asia. Finally, in the area of mining engineering, the institute has developed new explosive materials (EM) for breaking stone blocks and blasting during construction. EM, which is made of available nonexplosive materials, is safe during manufacture, transport, and use; it is also inexpensive. Two other mining engineering innovations are a new air lining for mining flat ore deposits and a mechanical air lining for mining thin beds.
The institute also provides services for industry. For example, the institute's concentrators are used for washing assays, efficiently separating small amounts
of heavy metals and minerals from mine refuse, and conducting a variety of tests. In the field of industrial ecology, the institute has developed a system to audit conditions along oil-and-gas pipelines and the state of the environment along the pipelines' path. The institute makes recommendations on construction of ecologically safe underground repositories for the burial of toxic and radioactive wastes. It also has developed several water purification methods.
The main research and development activities of the St. Petersburg Mining Institute have been conducted in close cooperation with other universities and with research and production firms, including converted military firms. Most developments are tested and then patented. More than 60 of the institute's patents are in use.
However, as a result of the many years of operating under a planned economy, the institute lacks experience in using its intellectual property in economic activity. Nevertheless its research activities during the past two years have created conditions favorable for the commercialization of such property:
- The ratio of budget to off-budget financing is 1:8.
- A modern computer network has been established.
- A system of social protection for scientists and students has been created.
- New laboratories with modern laboratory equipment have been established.
- Eight scientific laboratories of foreign firms are now located at the institute.
- A special fund for promoting fundamental research has been created.
Under the conditions of economic crisis, science can survive only in those organizations that consider it an economic resource. Science responsive to market demand can create conditions for enhancing the life of scientists and improving their material welfare.