EPFL and the State of Valais have signed a partnership agreement

Jacques Melly, president of the State Council of Valais, and Patrick Aebischer, president of EPFL.

Jacques Melly, president of the State Council of Valais, and Patrick Aebischer, president of EPFL.

The canton Valais and EPFL (Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne) are joining forces to create a permanent academic and scientific endeavor in the canton. The project, entitled “EPFL Valais,” will include the creation and development of eleven research and teaching chairs, in close collaboration with the University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland (HES-SO) Valais Wallis, as well as the local private business community.

The Council of States of the Canton Valais and EPFL have made their desire to put an ambitious research and teaching project in place, centered on areas that are critical for the canton’s economy. The project is focusing on energy, health and nutrition, which account for more than 20% of the canton’s GDP and employment. The permanent EPFL Valais Wallis project is expected to stimulate the cantonal economy markedly, both on the short and long term.

By attracting the Lausanne-based Federal Institute to the canton Valais, the Council of States is underlining both its international ambitions and its commitment to creating framework conditions that are indispensable for the future of the canton. It is also looking to further strengthen research and collaborative efforts with the HES-SO Valais Wallis, with institutions of applied research and with the local business network, particularly through the Ark Foundation.

Energy, green chemistry, biotech and bioengineering
The canton Valais, through its economic, industrial and topographical characteristics, has a unique potential for establishing collaborations in the following areas:

  • Energy: Hydropower and wind turbines, energy mix management, turbomachinery, smart grid, energy management, green chemistry (manufacture and transformation of biomass, use and development of CO2 produced by thermal power plants),
  • Health and nutrition : biotech (manufacture of proteins and viruses from organic cultures, separation and purification of synthetic proteins necessary for producing drugs, vaccines, and gene therapies, etc…) and bioengineering (robotics, motor and visual rehabilitation etc…).

All these research areas will also strengthen existing scientific and clinical collaborations with the HES-SO Valais Wallis, and with other institutions, including IRO, IDIAP, CREM, the Hospital of the Valais and the SUVA. The Canton has also indicated its willingness to establish a “renewable energy” plan that is coherent, eco-compatible and sustainable over the long term.

In order to attain the scientific critical mass that is sufficient at both a national and international level, the future structure of EPFL Valais Wallis, which will go into effect as soon as 2014, is expected to include:

  • Transfer and creation in the canton Valais, by EPFL, of four research chairs, including the promotion to full professor of the director of the Ophthalmologic Research Institute (IRO);
  • Simultaneous creation by the canton Valais of seven additional tenure track professorships and the provision of required infrastructure for the entirety of the project;
  • Establishment of joint educational programs between EPFL and the Valais-based institutions of higher learning.

The project is in line with the many existing and evolving collaborations between EPFL and the canton Valais. EPFL was a founding member or has provided considerable support to several existing research centers in the canton (IDIAP, CREM, IRO). Several EPFL professors are already actively collaborating with the HES-SO Valais Wallis, in particular in the area of life sciences and technologies and energy, as well as with the Ark, a foundation for innovation in the canton Valais.

Increasing the educational offer
The project will strengthen the existing educational offer, as well as improve interactions with the HES-SO Valais Wallis. Specific programs are also planned, such as Master’s degrees in green chemistry and energy. These programs could attract international students to the canton, and they will strengthen the reputation of both the canton Valais and Switzerland by promoting the values of sustainable development, renewable energies and commitment to human health.

An examination and discussion of how to integrate EPFL Valais Wallis in a campus project in the city of Sion will be undertaken very soon.

The initial operating costs of EPFL Valais Wallis are expected to be about 14 million Swiss francs per year for the canton and its partners. This creation of a permanent EPFL presence in the canton Valais is in line with EPFL’s strategy to accelerate future technology transfers that can drive job growth by making the best use of the existing balance between cutting edge research and the specializations that are unique to the Swiss economic landscape.