Valais, a “Health Valley” and the Driving Force of Tomorrow's Power

© 2012 EPFL

© 2012 EPFL

This morning, the Council of State of the canton of Valais in corpore and EPFL signed an agreement for the creation of the EPFL Valais Wallis academic cluster. The signing took place after a year of setting up the project announced on 10 January 2012. The Council of State, the City of Sion, EPFL and the University of Applied Sciences of Western Switzerland (HES-SO) Valais Wallis will shortly launch an architectural design competition for the future University campus that will house the first EPFL’s research chairs in 2014 and the first HES transfers in 2015.

The agreement signed on 19 December between the State of Valais and EPFL has endorsed the bases of the project launched in January 2012. It confirms the creation of eleven research chairs in energy and health. Additionally, the agreement has enhanced the original project as it now incorporates an experimental research platform named Energypolis as well as the creation of an infrastructure for technology transfer in Valais with the support of the Ark Foundation. The project will be materialized through the construction of a new campus in the Train Station District in Sion, home to the permanent EPFL and HES-SO outposts in Valais.

The establishment of the cluster will entail the creation of about 120 to 150 high value-added jobs. The global investment of around 335 million CHF will be distributed throughout the next ten years. The EPFL Valais Wallis campus will open in 2014 and the HES-SO will move in from 2015. The whole constitutes a unique collaboration platform in Switzerland between a Federal Institute of Technology (EPF) and a University of Applied Sciences (HES), paving the way for a vital association linking basic and applied research with innovation. This innovation value chain will be completed with the arrival of CimArk, operational arm of the Ark Foundation.

Launch of an international architecture design competition

The entities of the EPFL Valais Wallis cluster will be connected to the HES-SO Valais Wallis site in a new campus spanning from the south of Sion’s train station to the Central Institute of Valais Hospitals in Champsec. At the same time, the urban development plan known as "the City of the 21st century” will also get under way. The new campus will be designed by the winner of an architecture competition in which prestigious Swiss and international architects will participate. This project aims to radically transform the social and economic dynamics of Valais and its relationship with the rest of Switzerland. The scope of the competition is expected to provide international visibility to the canton, symbolic of its innovating ambition and standing.

Eleven chairs and two research groups focused on energy and health

The EPFL Valais Wallis academic cluster will comprise a total of eleven chairs and two research groups. EPFL will transfer four chairs and two research groups, and the State of Valais will create seven new chairs. These chairs will be based upon common areas shared by EPFL and the HES-SO Valais Wallis with the purpose of covering the entire added value chain ranging from basic and applied research to economic exploitation. Part of the research will focus on the hydrodynamics of turbomachinery by optimizing the production of hydroelectricity, a method of energy production specific to Valais (currently 10 TWh; potentially + 1.2 TWh). The research will also deal with water management and optimal use of lakes and rivers. Furthermore, another part of research will be devoted to green chemistry (biomass from agricultural areas, CO2 capture and processing, etc.), health (biotechnology / bioengineering) and nutrition. The latter will be achieved in collaboration with SUVA, the western Valais hospitals and the Institute for Research in Ophthalmology (IRO).

Apart from establishing two EPFL health research chairs, the State Council decided to assign the Valais Hospital, in collaboration with the HES-SO, the task of drafting for an architectural competition. The aim of the contest is to design a health campus on the Sion Hospital area, which will stimulate the emergence of valuable collaborations thanks to the proximity of students and researchers from the HES, EPFL and the IRO, as well as health professionals from the Valais Hospital and the SuvaCare rehabilitation clinic.

“Energypolis”: exceptional testing facilities in Switzerland and in Europe

The campus will be complemented with the creation of an infrastructure, unique in Europe, comprising testbeds shared by EPFL and the HES-SO Valais Wallis. Named Energypolis, it will contain impressive facilities for testing hydraulic turbines, hydroelectric dams as well as the water flow on natural and built environments. Some of the equipment used in this project will be moved from Lausanne to Sion. Energypolis will also include a novel “green chemistry” platform for the development of innovative energy sources, particularly from biomass or seaweed farming.

An innovation park for technology transfer

Such research infrastructures will contribute to foster a valuable relationship with industry through the creation of Sion’s “Innovation Park”. Similar to EPFL’s Innovation Square, the park is likely to become a regional hub of the “Swiss Innovation Park” that the federal government intends to create for encouraging technology transfer and wealth creation. The EPFL Valais Wallis Innovation Park will constitute an essential part of the economy of Valais by involving research institutions, large companies and SMEs. It will radiate throughout the entire Valais thanks to the canton’s economic promotion and to the support of the Ark Foundation, which is active in Monthey, Martigny, Sion, Conthey, Sierre and Visp.

Valais to become the pioneer of the Swiss energies of the future and a model for Europe

To prove the relevance of the multidisciplinary approach undertaken, the project aims to transform Valais into a large-scale "systemic demonstrator". The idea is to illustrate on a regional scale the way energy producers and consumers can interact to achieve an optimal energy flow and be able to make savings while reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. This demonstration will run from Gletsch to St-Gingolph. By integrating all the energy factors pertaining to an entire region (water, CO2, biomass, smart grid), and testing them on its territory, the Valais area will become a model for the energies of the future in Switzerland and internationally.

Financial partnership between the State of Valais and EPFL

The annual cost of research chairs at the EPFL Valais Wallis cluster will be of 18.3 million CHF during the first seven years. EPFL will provide 9.9 million for the transferred chairs and the State of Valais will allocate 8.4 million to the creation of new chairs. The State will ensure the provision of initial equipment whereas EPFL will take over afterwards. Both parties have also agreed to carry out their search for sponsorship together.

Impact on the Canton

The economic and scientific impact of the agreement signed today will be monitored from 2014 onwards. With the EPFL Valais Wallis cluster, Valais will host a Federal Institute of Technology of international standing. By creating platforms with the HES-SO Valais Wallis and the Ark Foundation, active throughout the entire canton, the academic cluster will directly and indirectly contribute to the entrepreneurial development of Valais and shall give the canton a prominent position in Switzerland and around the world.