The Technical University of Ostrava (VŠB-TUO) together with the University of Ostrava and other partners is launching the REFRESH project with the aim of transforming the Moravian-Silesian Region into a smart and green region. The project, which received a record CZK 2.5 billion subsidy, will focus on developing new technologies, including hydrogen technologies, and putting sustainable practices into practice.

REFRESH is based on a unique concept of interconnected living laboratories where cutting-edge research is carried out in close contact with companies and in accordance with the requirements of end users. Based on this approach, VŠB-TUO and the Moravian-Silesian Innovation Centre, with the support of the leadership of the Moravian-Silesian Region, have created a strategic vision for the transformation of the region called SMARAGD (SMARt And Green District). The REFRESH project is a key tool for its implementation.

"Living Labs are the basis for multifaceted cooperation. They will respond to the most important societal problems and bring solutions to them," explained Igor Ivan, REFRESH Director and Vice Rector of the University of Science and Technology for Strategy and Cooperation. According to Ivan, the aim is to provide conditions for the inflow of young people, top scientists and investments into the region, as well as the creation of new companies and start-up projects or the introduction of innovations into the production processes of large enterprises and companies. "This will significantly strengthen their competitiveness on a pan-European scale. We will bring new energy and opportunities to the region, show the perspective of young talented people and contribute to the transformation of the region into a smart and green region." 

 Innovation and hydrogen technologies
REFRESH will focus its efforts on developing new materials and technologies for green energy and reducing the carbon footprint. "Research teams will also respond to the growing demand for new materials in the energy sector and other industries that still use expensive, geopolitically unavailable or difficult to recycle raw materials. An integral part of the project will also be the development of unique technologies for addressing old environmental burdens, cleaning mine water and generally revitalising post-coal landscapes," said Radek Zbořil, head of the Materials & Environment Lab and one of the project's main coordinators.

The researchers will also work on the use of alternative energy sources, hydrogen technologies or innovative methods of energy storage in modern battery systems. "The transformation of the energy sector towards the use of sustainable low-carbon technologies is a key step towards a modern and resilient society. This is where the Energy Lab's research will be directed, where we will systematically investigate methods and technologies for the energy recovery of alternative fuels, including research on energy conversion and management, as well as analysis of the impact of research results on society and the environment," said Stanislav Mišák, Head of the Energy Lab and Director of the Centre for Energy and Environmental Technologies at VŠB-TUO.

Digitisation and automation
The project will also focus on the introduction of new digitalisation and robotics in industrial processes, including transport. "Within the framework of research programmes and activities focused on innovation, we will fundamentally accelerate the introduction of digitalisation with applications of artificial intelligence, robotics and additive manufacturing technologies into industrial plants," said Petr Šimoník, head of the Industry 4.0 & Automotive Laboratory and vice-dean for cooperation with industry at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics of VŠB-TUO.

Social and economic aspects
REFRESH does not neglect the social and economic aspects of the transformation. "For example, the situation in traditional industries, including Liberty Ostrava, shows that the region will need social and organisational models in the area of new competences and technologies. The transition to a low-carbon economy may be faster than expected. We want to help harness the potential of new technologies and prevent the 'geography of discontent' from constraining the region's development," said Ondřej Slach, Head of the Social Lab and Vice Rector of the OU.

Cooperation with industry and public administration
The project relies on collaboration with industry partners and public administration to successfully translate the project into practice. "Education, entrepreneurship, innovation and cooperation of public administration with the private sector and universities are values that can significantly accelerate the transformation process of our region," said Jan Krkoška, Governor of the Moravian-Silesian Region.


Funding and expected results
The REFRESH project has received a record grant of CZK 2.5 billion from the Operational Programme for Equitable Transformation. It aims not only to transform the Moravian-Silesian Region into a smart and green region, but also to strengthen its competitiveness and sustainability across Europe.

Of the total cost, a full one billion is earmarked for new instrumentation. In addition to the national supercomputing centre IT4Innovations and the recently opened Centre for Energy and Environmental Technologies - explorer (CEETe) at VŠB-TUO, other state-of-the-art facilities will be added: laboratories focused on fuel cells and battery storage, the most powerful national microscopy centre, a polygon for the development of autonomous vehicles and one of the largest university 3D printing centres in Central Europe. More than 100 new, mostly international scientists will be involved in research in the living labs, and much of the university's current 12,000+ students will benefit from the unique infrastructure.

The two universities have committed to generating revenues of 450 million crowns in the project through collaboration with industrial partners. VŠB-TUO actively cooperates with more than 500 companies, a significant number of which are interested in actively participating in the research in the living laboratories. VŠB-TUO will also cooperate with German colleagues from the Fraunhofer company to transfer the results into practice. This world-renowned research institution is a partner of the REFRESH project, which runs according to a set schedule.

The European Union co-financed operational programme Fair Transition is aimed at addressing the negative impacts of the shift away from coal in the most affected regions. In the Czech Republic, in addition to the Moravian-Silesian Region, it also concerns the Karlovy Vary and Ústí Regions. The aim of the support is to enable the regions to address the social, economic and environmental impacts of the transition.