EPFL to create six new research chairs in Valais by 2032

 Olivier Maire/EPFL
Olivier Maire/EPFL
EPFL and the Valais Cantonal Government signed a third amendment to their agreement today in Sion, officially launching the third phase of EPFL’s expansion into the region. The two parties will pool their resources to create a new teaching, research and innovation hub devoted to the energy transition, with the goal of contributing to technological advancement in Switzerland and abroad. EPFL will set up six additional research chairs at the EPFL Valais Wallis campus, including two funded by the Canton of Valais.

It’s been an ideal win-win relationship. On 19 December 2012, EPFL and the Canton of Valais entered into a formal partnership through an agreement to open the EPFL Valais Wallis campus in Sion. The agreement was amended in 2017 to lay the groundwork for the new Alpole research center on Alpine and polar environments. Inaugurated two years ago, the Alpole building opened its doors ten years to the day after the initial agreement was signed.

In just under ten years - the first research chairs were set up in 2015 - the Valais Cantonal Government’s joint investment with and support for EPFL have delivered on its promise. Technology developed at the School has been transferred to key Valais industries and, according to a recent EPFL study on its Valais campus , each franc invested by the Canton has generated three for the local economy.

These first two phases of EPFL’s expansion into Valais have bolstered economic activity in the Canton. Thanks to its active involvement, the Canton has received a swift return on its investment and has been able to promote key Valais industries. For its part, EPFL has built up its activities there, invested more than was initially planned and forged solid relationships with local businesses.

A new research hub to drive the energy transition

Nine startups have been founded so far to market technology developed at EPFL Valais Wallis, creating high-added-value jobs. These young firms have made Valais one of Switzerland’s highest-ranking cantons for innovation and attracted venture capital to the region. In addition, the Valais campus is working with the nearby HES-SO engineering school on around 30 R&D projects as well as technology and knowledge transfer to industry. These startups have received business development support from CimArk, The Ark Foundation’s operating entity.

Today, the value chain that EPFL and the Canton of Valais initially envisaged is fully functional. Going forward, the two sides plan to ramp up the R&D carried out at the campus with a new healthcare technology park and a new building affiliated with EPFL’s Innovation Park. The EPFL Valais Wallis campus currently has 15 research chairs and over 250 employees, 70% of whom are based in Valais.

Encouraged by the campus’s positive impact, EPFL and the Valais Cantonal Government have decided to continue in this vein and today signed a third amendment to the 2012 agreement. This officially kicks off the third phase of EPFL’s expansion into the Canton, which will entail creating a new teaching, research and innovation hub devoted to the energy transition, with the goal of contributing to technological advancement in Switzerland and abroad.

"This amendment to launch the third phase of EPFL’s development in our canton reflects our shared desire to continue what has been nothing less than a success story. I’m sure that our new teaching, research and innovation hub on the energy transition will have an impact both in Switzerland and internationally and will rapidly make a name for itself given the growing need for responses to this crucial issue," says Christophe Darbellay, the head of the Valais Department of Economy and Education.

The research carried out in this third phase will supplement the expertise already housed in Valais, strengthening the Canton’s innovation ecosystem in renewable energy and clean technology and positioning it as a pioneer in these fields.

22 research chairs and four research groups by 2032

Under the new agreement, EPFL will set up six additional chairs at its Valais campus (including two funded by the Canton), on the topics of hydropower, energy storage systems, material surfaces and interfaces, reservoir sedimentation, decarbonization, and battery systems and materials. The Canton of Valais will provide funding to cover two of these chairs, or CHF 1.2 million per chair per year for the first seven years, and CHF 2.1 million per chair per year starting in the eighth year. EPFL will provide funding for the remaining four chairs. This means that by 2032, the EPFL Valais Wallis campus will be home to 22 chairs and four research groups.

"Switzerland must be in a position to address major challenges like climate change and the energy supply, which will require a concerted effort by all stakeholders: universities and research institutes, local governments, businesses, and citizens. This is the approach we’ve adopted in our partnership with the Canton of Valais, and it’s proven to work very well," says EPFL President Martin Vetterli.

The Canton of Valais will also make its premises and facilities available free of charge for setting up the new chairs. And as part of this third expansion phase, EPFL will support the opening of a science outreach unit in Valais.