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3rd Conference of ST&I

Biodiesel is ours

For the winner of the Nobel in Chemistry, Brazil needs partners to maintain the leadership in renewable fuels

HÉLIO DE ALMEIDAThe 3rd National Conference of Science, Technology and Innovation brought together more than 2 thousand scientists, businessmen and representatives of various ministries, in Brasilia, from November 16 to 18. The main conclusion was that Brazil has to invest in its potential for innovation, according to information disclosed by the communication advisors of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

This recommendation, incidentally, was emphatically underscored by a foreign scientist: the New Zealander Alan MacDiarmid, the winner of the 2000 Nobel in Chemistry for discovering and studying conductive polymers. “Brazil represents a great case of success in the production and use of renewable fuels. It has enormous potential, it is two or three years ahead of the other countries, and is also emerging as one of the main manufacturers of bi-fuel vehicles”, the researcher said. He warned, though, that in a short time the country will lead this position of leadership to the United States and a few European nations, unless it looks for partnership and splits the costs of the researches with other nations. For MacDiarmid, energy is one of the ten main problems that humanity will have to face in the next 50 years, and Brazil is a privileged country in this race against time. “We can forecast a future in which bioalcohol will be transformed into an international commodity”, he foresees. It would be good if Brazil had the same vision of future that it had at the beginning of the 1970’s, when it created the National Alcohol Program (Proálcool). “It was the only country that had this vision.”

The lack of investment in innovation may jeopardize not only Brazil’s position in the world energy market, but also Brazilian technology in tropical agriculture, regarded as one of the best in the world, developed by the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and other public research institutes. The main bottleneck is the lack of resources for research, recognized the Minister of Agriculture, Roberto Rodrigues. Embrapa’s budget, he exemplified, corresponds to less than 0.6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Not to mention the lack of infrastructure and logistics, factors that, in his opinion, leads to the loss of the country’s competitiveness.

The lack of investment in research in companies is also an obstacle to innovation. The private sector sets aside only 0.42% of the GDP for research and development (R&D), against an average of 2% intended for innovation in the more developed countries. Another negative indicator is the low percentage of Brazilian researchers in companies, which is no more than 23%. For the president of the Industrial Policy and Development Council of the National Federation of Industry (CNI), Rodrigo Loures, the private sector’s lack of investment in R&D results from the fact that there is, in practice, no “political will to make innovation”. “We need to have a target defined to expand the number of companies in technological innovation for the present-day 160 to 4 or 5 thousand in five years.” He suggested a joint effort to construct an economic environment that is propitious for entrepreneurism, but he listed a series of obstacles to innovation, amongst them red tape, high interest rates, and the lack of financial resources. “Innovation also has to be done in public management.”

The slow advance of innovation makes a counterpoint to the pace with which Brazilian scientific production is progressing, which is growing at a rate of 8% a year and in a balanced way between the various areas of knowledge, underscored Eduardo Moacyr Krieger, the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences (ABC). “That is a remarkable growth rate”, he commented. This performance has been one of the factors for attracting foreign investments to the country. Krieger cited a recent survey published in the British magazine, The Economist, with directors of major companies in the world, which put Brazil in sixth place in the list of intentions of investment, behind China, the United States, India, the United Kingdom and Germany. “This is the moment when the government, the scientific community and private companies ought to take advantage to insert Brazil into a virtuous circle that would succeed in transferring knowledge to the productive sector, so as to generate wealth and improve the quality of life of the population”, he concluded.

Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, FAPESP’s scientific director, stressed that innovative ideas are an important ingredient for the development of a country. But the capacity for “using knowledge” should not be directly tied up with the capacity for “generating knowledge”. For him, Brazil has demonstrated a strong capacity for generating knowledge in the academic world. “What is missing is the repetitiveness of the generation of wealth based on national knowledge”, he stressed. That makes Brazilian industry still feel difficulties in creating innovative technologies that are sufficiently relevant to be transformed into a patent. “In 2004, Brazil filed 106 patents in the United States, while Korea surpassed 4 thousand”, he compared. “Brazilian researchers need to understand that any product that has a prospect of being negotiated must, before anything else, be patented”, he emphasizes.

Besides willingness of researchers to protect knowledge, the increase in the volume of patent deposits also depends on greater agility from the National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI), whose restructuring was amply debated at the conference.  The president of the institute, Roberto Jaguaribe, claimed that one of his greatest challenges is to solve operational problems and to stimulate the used of patent information, which currently does not go beyond four consultations a day. “This figure is ludicrous”, he observed. The questions of budget and equipment, he guaranteed, have, in good measure, been resolved. And he pondered that the deficiencies in the Brazilian process of innovation are not exclusively the INPI’s. “Intellectual property is merely part of the solution.”

The Minister of Science and Technology, Sergio Rezende, was the most optimistic in relation to the advance of innovation. He mentioned a list of conquests, amongst them the Law on Innovation, the creation of transversal actions, and the expansion of the Company Research Support Program (Pappe). “It is fundamental for an integration to occur between the policy on science and technology and the industrial policy. And various strategic actions have been taken in these last few years for this convergence to occur.”

The minister took the opportunity to guarantee that the resources of the National Scientific and Technological Development Fund (FNDCT) – made up with money from the sectorial funds – will have, at the most, 40% held back next year, with prospects for reaching 0% in 2009.

All the conclusions of the 3rd National Conference of Science, Technology and Innovation will be brought together in a document to be presented to the National Science and Technology Council and to the National Congress. “We want science, technology and innovation to come to be used as a basic instrument for sustainable development”, claimed Carlos Aragão, the coordinator-general of the conference.