Collaboration Picks Up Speed

Industry and academia pull together harder.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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"The BASF-Harvard collaboration is combining efforts to answer important questions. In terms of microbiology/medicine, how do chemical, physical and biological stimuli affect biofilm formation and how can we interfere with the cells' circuitry? From a chemical viewpoint, which functional groups and which formulation provide the right stimuli? From the physics side, how are the mechano-chemical properties of the biofilms related to their growth and survival? Finally, there is the question concerning engineering materials science: how can we produce and apply new biofilm-preventing materials? It is the answer to these questions that will lead to breakthrough innovations," says Rieger.

Meanwhile, BP, London, U.K., is focusing its latest collaboration on one of the oldest engineering problems: corrosion. The company has teamed up with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., and the University of Manchester, Manchester, U.K, to work on materials and corrosion research. BP's initial investment is about $2 million, with the same funding level available for each of the next four years.

The initial emphasis is on materials and corrosion science — including corrosion and corrosion-fatigue modeling, environmental cracking, novel coatings and new monitoring technology. Efforts will extend over time to other mechanical-integrity and reliability-related areas.

The collaboration aims to provide innovative, interdisciplinary academic input and support for BP's Inherently Reliable Facilities (IRF) program to improve the company's fundamental understanding of engineering materials and corrosion.

"Corrosion control, mitigation, and monitoring are significant concerns in our industry," notes Simon Webster, BP vice president. "We recognized that the future success of the IRF program depends on having reliable long-term access to highly specialized materials and corrosion expertise and laboratory facilities. Our collaboration with MIT and Manchester will provide us with the world-class research access we need."

"The MIT/BP collaboration is an exciting opportunity to develop a fundamental understanding of the underlying mechanisms of environmental degradation and the application of this understanding to the development of advanced materials for use in extreme environments such as those found in the oil and gas industry," adds Ron Ballinger, professor of nuclear science and engineering and materials science and engineering at MIT.
Broader Collaborations
Other joint efforts involving multiple institutions or companies also have recently been launched.

For instance, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Brentford, U.K., is part of a new consortium that aims to develop and validate multi-parameter in-line real-time sensors for liquid streams. (See "Initiative Promises Better Sensors")

Another collaboration is the Center for Operator Performance (COP), Dayton, Ohio, which focuses on researching human capabilities and human factors engineering. Formed in 2006, the COP now boasts 10 members, including BP, Chevron, Flint Hills Resources, Marathon, NOVA Chemicals and Suncor Energy, as well as automation vendors ABB and Emerson Process Management. And membership looks to grow. "Some companies who have deferred joining in the past for economic reasons (membership is $25,000 or $50,000, depending on category) are now coming on board. The latest is a major chemical production company, which has said that after talking about joining for a long time, now is the time to step up. This bodes really well for the chemical industry as a whole — and for our organization, too," notes Dave Strobhar of Beville Engineering, who played a leading role in founding the center.

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