New public tender process for the Clean Technologies Institute (ITL)

“El pasado lunes 4 de enero se dio a conocer la decisión de CORFO de adjudicar la licitación del Instituto de Energías Limpias (ITL) al consorcio norteamericano Associated Universities Inc. (AUI), lo que ha generado un debate nacional protagonizado por senadores/as, diputados/as e investigadores/as, tanto de las universidades del Consejo de Rectores como de otros organismos relevantes a nivel nacional.

As the Council of Rectors, we are part of said debate, since it is a high-impact decision, not only because of the associated amounts (193 million dollars in 10 years), but mainly because this initiative represents a unique and invaluable opportunity for research, capacity building for technology transfers and innovation and, ultimately, for the development of Chile. The above given that the Chilean Institute of Clean Technologies (ITL) promoted by CORFO -as part of an agreement between the state entity and the company SQMSalar-, aims to promote solar energy, sustainable mining (low emissions) and materials advanced lithium and other minerals.

We question a decision like this because it rejects the proposal presented by the Association for the Development of Clean Technologies (ASDIT), a national and international consortium made up of Chilean universities with recognized trajectories in research and technology -Universidad Católica del Norte, Universidad de Antofagasta, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, University of Chile, University of Concepción, University of Santiago de Chile, University of Talca, University of Tarapacá, Federico Santa María Technical University and Adolfo Ibáñez University-; in addition to mining and energy companies established in Chile; Industrial Association of Antofagasta (AIA), scientific and technological centers of Germany, Australia, United Kingdom, Spain, among others; and a long list of other associated entities. It is an unprecedented alliance in the country, which proposed an ambitious agenda linked and co-constructed with the Antofagasta region, whose purpose is to lead a new cluster for Chile and from Chile, with our own capabilities and with global impact.

We are concerned about the result of this tender because it seems to us nonsense that an international consortium, with few links with the Chilean mining and energy world, intends to lead through the ITL a proposal for sustainable development in the Antofagasta region and a new and important industry for our country.

In this scenario, it is worth asking what is the real policy to promote the development of own capacities for innovation that is proposed for the country. With this decision, Chile risks the historical possibility of leveraging resources and generating synergistic wills between industry, academia, cutting-edge innovation, the local community and the link with the territories, in order to be true protagonists of technological development for climate action through the development of green hydrogen.

Our question is also related to the lack of transparency in the project evaluation process. With the information available so far, we know that in the first evaluation, by an independent jury with an international body, the ASDIT proposal obtained the highest score. For this reason, the change in the evaluation of the following phases - internal to CORFO and the Council of Ministers - is striking.

It is also worrying that the rigor and procedures that are usually required for instruments to promote research with public funding have not been applied in this tender. Specifically, we mean that, along with the evaluation by international panels, proposals submissions and local technical-based advisory committees are also considered, in order to understand the proposals in depth.

In the opinion of the Council of Rectors of Chilean Universities, such a relevant decision for the country must respond to a long-term development strategy that strengthens Chile's science and technology system and that enhances the various territories, their natural resources and that benefit the citizenry.

Consequently, it seems serious to us that the North American consortium has been chosen, made up of nine North American universities (Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia, Princeton, Cornell, Pennsylvania, John Hopkins, Rochester and Yale) and the Chilean Development Universities, San Sebastián, Autónoma de Chile and Atacama, since it reflects that there is no legitimate interest to promote, validate and recognize national capacities.

Considerando la relevancia del Instituto de Energías Limpias y su impacto en el desarrollo de innovación en una temática estratégica para el país, nos vemos obligados a hacer un llamado a revertir esta decisión e implementar un nuevo proceso de licitación pública que dé garantías de objetividad, transparencia y ecuanimidad.”