In a conversation with Oeiras Valley, Pedro Matias, President of the Welding and Quality Institute (ISQ), talked about the construction of a clean nuclear energy reactor — a project which the ISQ is involved in and which is “probably the biggest innovation project in the world.”
Pedro Matias outlined other ongoing investigation projects, such as the construction of the biggest telescope to exist on planet Earth. Throughout the conversation, he also talked about the “impressive dynamics” of the City Council of Oeiras, “in the search for permanent innovation” and how the municipality “permanently challenges the companies” based there.
Read the full interview which introduces the work of Pedro Matias, Chair of the Board of Directors of the ISQ since March 2017.
The ISQ is one of the Portuguese entities to participate in the ambitious European project to develop a hybrid electric aircraft. What is this project, and in what way will the ISQ contribute?
That is a very interesting project, but not the only one. The ISQ is a home of innovation, it is a home for the production of knowledge and for putting that knowledge at the service of companies and industry. Therefore, we have been strongly investing in research, development and innovation for several years. We have participated in more than 500 international research and development projects throughout the ISQ’s existence, bringing together companies, universities, both national and foreign, etc. It’s in fact a reality that is very relevant for us.
That particular project is more related to renewable energies and mobility matters. The entire concept of mobility is changing rapidly in every country, in Europe and around the world. This concerns not only land transport, but also aircraft and aviation industries.
We know that third generation electric aircrafts, which are now being introduced, are more sustainable and consume less fuel. Nowadays airplanes are a big pollution source and everyday thousands or millions of airplanes cross the skies. And so, that project is very interesting because it will ultimately allow air transport to transform into a more sustainable industry.
The questions connected to the environment and to sustainable development are currently very much on the agenda as we live on a planet which is finite, whose resources are finite. Therefore, if we do not look after it in the medium to long term, we are going to have several problems. In fact, climate change has already proved that to an extent. This is thus a very interesting project in which we are involved and from which we hope to have interesting results that will benefit the industry in the medium term.
At the end of last year, the ISQ received an honorable mention in the category of national brand awarded by the 2022 edition of Portugal Tecnológico (Technological Portugal) and it was also chosen as a Corporate Brand by Superbrands. What significance do these accolades hold for the Institute and its associates?
Awards are very important. Often, it is a small moment in a project which is at times lengthy. Sometimes it is some project that takes two years or so and which will then receive an award in only five or ten minutes. But a lot of work goes into it. It is an acknowledgement, especially for the teams because it is external recognition of what is done by our teams on an internal level.
We have been receiving several awards throughout this year and the last few years. In 50 years of our existence the ISQ had never been considered a Superbrand. Two years ago, we had that first acknowledgement. The market finally recognized this powerful ISQ brand as a Superbrand and in this past year of 2022, which just ended, we were again recognized as a Corporate Superbrand. We were given another award by Visão magazine, one of the Prémios Verdes (Green Awards) closely linked to sustainable development, where we also presented a very interesting project.
It is about the brand’s reputation and it is an acknowledgement of the teams that are dedicated to the projects. They are always very interesting and we are always very pleased when the good work we do within our doors is also recognized outside of them.
Last year in May the ISQ became the first Portuguese entity to be certified by IPAC regarding the calibration of optical particle counters. What does this calibration facilitate and what impact could it have on the environment?
When we walk around the city center, we assume that the air quality in that city is okay when often, it is not. Even in downtown Lisbon as well as in other countries in Europe, there are frequently problems that can sometimes affect car traffic depending on how intense the pollution is.
How can we measure that? Through a certain kind of equipment that will measure these variables from an environmental point of view. Meanwhile, to ensure that our assessments are precisely correct, that equipment needs to be properly calibrated.
The ISQ did that kind of work with equipment calibration in the area of expertise often called legal metrology and has been doing it for several others. It was another certification we got and it is another field of expertise which the ISQ offers to companies and citizens within the framework of environmental improvement and sustainable development.
What other prospective or ongoing projects would you like to highlight?
We have several. Like I was saying before, the ISQ is a home for the production of knowledge, a home of engineering that works for the industry, that makes it possible for the industry to work in optimal conditions. That is our daily work, that is what our teams work on day-to-day.
However, to provide this service to the industry we need to always be ahead of its own needs. For example, nowadays we are already working very hard on the digital transformation of the industry itself. Meanwhile, the industry will need a different service as it introduces these new technologies in its daily work.
To be able to provide a service with added value the ISQ needs to be even further ahead. We need to work ahead of the industry to begin dominating that technological innovation’s value chain earlier so that later, when the industry implements it, we are already fully able to support it.
There is a project which the ISQ has been involved in for many years which I think is of the utmost importance and which is probably the biggest innovation project in the world: it’s the construction of a nuclear reactor, but a clean nuclear energy reactor, which has nothing to do with what we usually associate with nuclear energy.
This is a project that will develop a prototype which is being built in the south of France, in Cadarache. We will try to prove that it is possible to have an inexhaustible source of energy on planet Earth, just like the sun’s energy or the energy that powers the stars. If we do prove it, a whole set of issues that the planet Earth is facing would be solved, particularly in terms of fossil fuels.
It is a project which, in its first phase, received a EUR 25 billion investment. In this second phase it will double the value with another EUR 25 billion. It’s not science fiction, it’s already in construction. Obviously, it is a very complex process, but this is a project which, providing it works, will completely change the geostrategy and even geopolitics of the world. Many of the wars fought nowadays are a result of interests related with gas, oil and mineral resources. If we can build a machine, a small power plant that will allow any country to be self-sufficient, from that moment on all of these interests lose their significance.
This project is absolutely disruptive. And the ISQ has been involved since the beginning, demonstrating our capacity and engineering knowledge. It’s something we are very proud of and in which we are absolutely delighted to participate.
Can you give an example of a project the ISQ developed which had practical effects on the citizens of Oeiras and on the Portuguese in general?
Here at the ISQ we have an entire set of activities which are reflected in society and in the industry, but in a way that is almost discreet. People don’t even realize that in order for something to work out someone needs to work in the background to make it happen. When we go to a hospital and we are given a certain dosage, for example of oxygen or a certain medicine, that equipment needs to be calibrated because the difference between life and death could be a few milliliters more or a few milliliters less of a crucial substance.
There is a whole range of almost routine procedures which people are barely even aware of. When we go to a gas station and we pump one liter or ten liters of gasoline, someone had to make sure that those ten liters are precisely ten and not ten roughly measured liters. Whether it is an electrical or gas meter, even in the county of Oeiras, where we have all these kinds of infrastructures, we need to ensure that they absolutely work and that they are real.
Really, there is an infinity of activities we carry out, not only within companies, and with high frequency here in our county. We are currently working hard in several projects with the City Council of Oeiras. In fact, when it comes to the permanent search for innovation, they have impressive dynamics and permanently challenge the companies based there to pursue that goal. For example, the maritime sector: it is an area in which the municipality really wants to invest over the next few years. The aerospace sector is another where the ISQ has its own expertise and we realized that the City Council is very interested in locally developing an entire cluster in the aeronautics and aerospace sectors.
It is very interesting to consider these innovation dynamics. The Oeiras Valley concept gathered this reality, here in the Municipality of Oeiras, in a much more complex way. Our relationship with the City Council of Oeiras is excellent, it is a permanent partnership and that is one of the reasons why the ISQ is headquartered in Oeiras, in Taguspark, with a very direct relationship with all of the innovative actors and agents here in this municipality.
What advantages does the location of the ISQ in Oeiras presents?
They are quite extensive. Firstly, because from a national as well as a European standpoint, in terms of territory Oeiras stands at the epicenter. Here in Oeiras, we are half an hour away from the airport and from the airport we can go anywhere in the world. The access roads are great and any client who goes to the airport of Lisbon will be here in half an hour, in Taguspark, the city of knowledge.
Secondly, in the last few years Oeiras has attracted a lot of talent — talented people and very interesting companies. The ecosystem that exists around the ISQ and in which the ISQ is inserted is very dynamic. I believe we have more than 25,000 companies based here, in the county of Oeiras and, potentially, some of the major private and multinational companies. This allows us, the CEOs from all the companies, to have a very close relationship. We have a wide range of very interesting and vibrant ecosystems.
Finally, the contact with the Executive at the municipality of Oeiras is also very easy. Our mayor is a very friendly person, and incredibly attentive. Whichever problem we might have, it’s the mayor we talk with, directly. If need be, he comes to the site to see exactly what is going on and makes a decision in 24 or 48 hours.
The same with the Mayor’s Office. We have a permanent relationship, whether it is with the deputy mayor or the city councilors, Pedro Patacho, Joana Baptista, or Francisco Rocha Gonçalves. This contact with the City Council is very easy, and it is so because they also understand that to handle whatever issue needs attention there needs to be a specific focus on the organizations.
Nowadays, monitoring and measuring airborne particles has established a growing importance in several distinct domains such as the control of unwanted environmental contamination, which is essential for the protection and assurance of process or product integrity in several sectors, namely the aerospace, microelectronics, pharmaceutical, medical devices, health and food industries.
What other projects in development would you want to highlight from those in a very initial stage, projects that are meant to be carried out in the future?
We are behind a European project, in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the biggest telescope to exist on planet Earth. With a EUR 1 billion initial investment, this project will have a very specific lens which will, no doubt, allow us to discover a whole set of new things in the Universe we do not yet have knowledge of.
Sometimes it feels like science fiction, but these are realities that are already in motion and the ISQ is one of the entities associated with this one project. Our part in the project has to do with the eye of the telescope, so to speak. It’s an extremely interesting project, and in a few years we will discover new things about the Universe thanks to it.
Also related to space, the development of a capsule which will be sent to Mars to bring back samples of soil is another project we are involved in. For the first time, we will bring to Earth physical samples of soil from Mars.
It’s not a very big capsule and it is coated with cork. A robot will collect the soil samples and place them inside that capsule, which will in turn be literally thrown into Earth, from Mars.
We’ve reached the conclusion that cork has an array of very interesting characteristics, such as being a very light material — given that everything we throw into space has a cost, the lighter the material, the lighter the cost, monetarily speaking. It also has an abnormal resistance to high temperatures. When re-entering the atmosphere, the capsule burns and the cork absorbs that high temperature. Lastly, in absorption of impact: when the capsule actually falls on Earth, the cork serves has a shock absorber to prevent the soil samples from breaking.
These very interesting projects we have been following and developing show that in Oeiras, and in Portugal, Portuguese engineering and entities such as the ISQ and others are inarguably doing fascinating world-class work of international relevance.